Hye Holiday Gathering
Gram prepared paklava and bourma
without a written recipe. Like a newly
hatched bird I’d wait for a bits of sweetness
to fall, walnuts covered with cinnamon,
honey mixed with lemon. I stood on a stool
to watch. Before me, at this table Hrpesima and Mariam had
mixed the phyllo and rolled it by hand, but when I was six we
bought phyllo papeer-thin sheets from Sevan’s Market in Watertown.
Gram melted butter in the cast iron skillet.
Don’t let the butter sizzle-too hot!
She mixed sugar and cinnamon in a bowl for me to add
then got out the heavy rolling pin. I crushed
walnuts beneath it’s weight. Gram said be sure
the nuts are ground fine! Grind them again—
still too big. I pushed the rolling pin hard against
walnuts, then we mixed in sugar and cinnamon .
We took one layer of phyllo at a time,
brushed with melted butter, sprinkled in nuts,
then rolled as quickly as we could.
Finally, using the sharpest blade,
we sliced the fragile rolls and
placed them on the cookie sheet.
Gram’s were straight and long,
mine crinkled, like thin fabric.
I have the recipe still, yellow with age,
thin and tattered, like phyllo dough,
filled with handed down memories from those
who sat at this table before me —Shushan, Bedros,
Kevon, Katchador, and Sitanoush cooking
to honor Kharpet and homeland no longer on the map.
Now I’m the old one. When I cook, my
grandmother’s voice follows me, step by step.
Dedication and Background for This Poem:
This poem was written to honor my Armenian family. My grandmother came to the United States in 1915 from Kharpet, where she and some of her siblings survived the town’s massacre and the genocide. My Great Great Uncle Katchador was the tallest, strongest person I knew when I was four years old. My grandmother Mariam had immediately married and lived with her new husband’s family. Hripsame was her mother-in-law. Her first two girl-children were Ana, my mother, and Sitanoush, my aunt. When I was five, Father Kevon, my grandmother’s cousin, found us! He was the only survivor from his part of the family. Monks from the school he attended took him in. When he was old enough, he became an itinerant monk and traveled in the mountains with a donkey. Years passed, and when I met him, in the photo included with my poem, he was working at the Vatican. He visited whenever he came to this country, and he was like a grandpa to me. Cooking traditions were passed from each generation around the table. For Armenians, food is nourishment for the heart as well as the belly. When I begin to mix up some cherog dough, or when I make paklava, I feel close to my ancestors, and I can still hear my grandmother’s voice in my ear. Sometimes I find that I’m 4 years old again, standing on a stool at the table, pressing down hard on the walnuts with the rolling pin.
May all beings live in peace
May all beings have food
May all beings live in safety
Elaine is a poet, herbalist, and educator. Her chapbook, The Heart is a Nursery For Hope, won first honors from Flutter Press in 2016. She’s recently been awarded the Beal Poetry third place prize,and was shortlisted at the International Hammond House Poetry contest and the Writer’s Digest Poetry Contest. Most recently Elaine’s poetry has been published by UCLA journal, Automatic Pilot, Sleep-ZZZ Journal, Crossways Journal, The Dublin Inksplinter’s 2019 anthology, and similar journals. Elaine has also been nominated for the Push Cart Prize. Visit her website at elainereardon.wordpress.com
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