Jul 10


First Clove

the smell of garlic
is the beginning of everything
and in every beginning
is a scent of the end

I am seeking my beginnings 
in the soil of shifting lands
I dig for garlic taproots
thirty generations deep
to hold my hands 

Second Clove

you know you need a knife 
to cut off the head
many heads should be cut off
but this one is allowed
garlic forgives its beheading
a sacrifice 
to all who dwell in aprons 
over gas hobs
firing up magic 
revealing their secrets
over steaming pots and pans

it is true
I was there with my grandmother
I saw the paper-thin protective layers
to naked raw questions
let the garlic speak
in oil splattering and splashing
my hands like hers 
riddled us with silver scorch marks
the spreading rivers of Eden

Third Clove

I tear up at the thought of garlic
my grandmother wore it around her neck
if you live and eat and cook garlic for long enough
it becomes your perfume

I peel its almost translucent skin to its sticky
inner self
the viscid texture clings to my fingers 
I carry its aroma
hands grasping the steering wheel
as I fetch my kids from school

I cook lunch for them
following my grandmother’s incantations
her daily schedule
cook chicken with turmeric and garlic
welcome children home with overflowing pots
only I don’t rest 
and I weep
because with no grandmother 
to chop the garlic small
and toss into the hot frying pan
to chant blessings 
with full moons of onion
be beautiful
be happy
discard your bruised skin
let the head of garlic
be your crown

Fourth Clove

I break this bulb
bare its whiteness 
marbled with purple streaks 
I feel the papery thin veil of yesterday
crumble under my seeking fingers
smell the sweat 
of my grandmother’s fear
as she closes one suitcase
for her family of seven 
boarding the plane 
from Baghdad to Israel
I still smell the tent mud
the DDT
the rain washing away 
the displaced
the misplaced

the garlic cooks
too fast too soon
golden brown
like my grandmother’s skin

Fifth Clove

am I the fruit of garlic
or the shell
my grandmother didn’t believe in waste
waste is a sin
she picked up every shred
and held me in her fingers
rough burnt cooked strong
she could carry a tray of cheese sambusak 
straight from the oven with her bare hands

I heard her knead her complaints 
into dough 
beat them flat into crackers
sprinkled with caraway seeds
her black cardigan flecked with flour
she rolled them out

Sixth Clove

to run out of garlic 
is like running out of air
I always buy too much
left in the vegetable bowl
it keeps growing
shoots of green
curled up embryos
less sharp to eat
less hurt 
sprouts that don’t remember
the uprooting
from warm olive tree earth
from ancestor graves

my grandmother believed
anything can grow 
as long as it’s attached 
to mother 
warding off 
anyone who says 
I don’t belong

Seventh Clove

I want to grow yellow roses
like those peeping through 
my grandmother’s kitchen window
sprinkle her rosewater 
brewed from scattered petals 
simmered and strained 
until strong
on my skin

I lie my heart down 
it will be kashered
it will be eaten by man

you can’t buy it
can’t conjure it up 
with unwilling hands
only blessed wrinkled
scalded hands
who know how to unfurl
the garlic flower
to reach the middle spine
no knife can cut through

so throw garlic into the fire
watch it cook 
until it ages black
doubles in strength
subtle sweet sure
all that I seek
my grandmother already knew