You taught me how to cook in five different kitchens.
The first things unpacked, before clothing and pictures,
were always the spice bottles, arranged in neat lines and color coded.
Turmeric with curry, cinnamon with cumin,
until eventually the most important ones reclaimed their places at the frontline.
Pushing through the Thursday night shuk, I remember the process,
the grab and replace so like the dark skinned haggling that surrounds me.
My thoughts are minced and smothered in voices that serenade me-
Hebrew and Arabic, only ten shekel for a kilo!
And I want to soak up their promises, because any one of them could be you.
You, dancing from cutting board to fridge, singing that same tone-deaf chorus,
sorting radishes with searing attention, pealing onions with olive fingers.
I still remember chopping cucumber and tomato so fine, so square,
you could lay them like bricks.
Dill and cilantro piled on the counter, fresh and aromatic,
shamelessly competing for a place in stuffing.
And each pot steaming on the stove, as diverse as a novel-
each with its own suspense, and its own hero.
The kitchen pulsing and fierce, alive and kicking, the only metaphor I have
for the Middle Eastern blood that throbs in your veins.
I would baste in your energy, memorize your motions.
You taught me failure before perfection-
first fiery criticism, then the begrudging head nod.
Stuffing peppers was a negotiation, a power balance between garlic,
tomato paste, and the furtive pinch of cinnamon buried deep in brown rice.
To shape a meatball required practice. To roast a chicken, patience.
And frying eggplant, open windows.
Hours spent with my hands kneading, my lips counting,
and my blistering hopes boiling and growing, before they’d burst-
all preparation for the moment my feet would step off a plane.
Daddy, I have carried your recipes back to their homeland.
Like a Sephardic Dr. Seuss, they lull me into oil-stained memories
of when everything was clear and your dishes were flavored with hints of love.
I can still picture you, your head bent and littered with grey.
I can still hear your awful singing, the only way you could speak.
I shop among your brothers now, listening to their harsh sounding words,
familiar renditions of tough-love.
But these Thursday nights are like nibbling on jalapeños-
at first the gaping, the open mouthed shock.
Then the scorching at the back of my throat that leaves me speechless
and gasping for cool relief, nostalgic for the moment before.