Sometimes We Just Want History to RepeatKaren Paul Holmes

One of the last times Father managed to stand in the kitchen   

to chop and to stir his Macedonian Bean Soup,  

we captured notes on paper now tomato-stained.

The five of us keep trying to recreate him.

   Soak great Northerns.
       Brown ham hocks, onions, peppers with paprika.
       Simmer until we can't wait any longer.
       Analyze our success.

If Brother has added enough red chili flakes to scorch throats,  

he smirks like Father did, The devil made me do it.  

At Angelo’s Coney Island, Father gave customers the menu    

they expected and wanted again and again.                

If they moved across country,  

they’d send for his frankfurters and chili sauce.  

He and Angelo opened the place after WWII  

and entered Michigan’s coney-dog wars. 

News stories, even a coffee table book, recount 

the ongoing clash since 1914: the Detroit-Greeks’ wet chili 

versus the Flint-Macedonians’ dry.  

And we can almost reconstruct Dad’s secret sauce, 

finely crumbled, spiced and browned beef, moist but never wet!

People hunger for oldies but goodies, don’t they? 

I cherished Joni Mitchell in my college days                                                  

for her new and strange open-tuned chords, the words            

that made me think my life was hers. But last time I saw her live,  

it was her big-band phase.  The audience and I refused

to let her move on.   

One fan shouted: Buck it up, Joni, and another: Sing “Cary!” 

She finally gave us “Circle Game,” raspy, 

so perfectly transformed by her age, and mine,   

I ached to slow those circles down. 

The older we get, the more we crave history.  

At our rare reunions, we five siblings tackle it.   

Today, it’s baklava. Cinnamon and walnuts in their filo aerie,  

crisped with butter, butter, butter.  

Oldest Sister drenches the oven-hot masterpiece 

with honey syrup, not drowning the pastry layers 

into a pile of soggy leaves.  

It’s just like we want it to be.  

Like the babas in the kitchen at St. Nicholas  

rolling dough tissue-thin until it hangs 

over the table’s edge like a cloth  

the way their babas taught them in the village.   

It tastes like the Name Days of Gus Branoff or Kosta Popoff 

and Balkan dances at our weddings:   

something important to hold onto and pass down.  

The crunch in mouths, gold flakes falling.     


Karen Paul Holmes has two poetry collections, No Such Thing as Distance (Terrapin Books) and Untying the Knot (Aldrich Press). Her poems have been featured on The Writer’s Almanac and The Slowdown. Publications include Diode, Plume, Verse Daily, and Prairie Schooner.