What We Keep

His is the gift of welcome. No wonder his place is bursting
every night of Ramadan. He says, “Try the lamb:
it is excellent tonight. You must eat. You must
eat.” And I, who have been empty and filled and emptied
again, feel that I will never be full. I taste everything
he offers: hummus, a hollow in the center of the bowl
like a wide navel filled with olive oil and paprika, bread
so hot that taking a round is like snatching a stick
from a bonfire, fatoush, shish tawouk, soft and tangy
cigars of rice wrapped in grape leaves, lentil soup and
mint tea and—“Taste,” he says, “A special dessert”—
dates and cheese and almonds swimming in honey.

He carries his infant granddaughter into the dining room,
showing her off as my father-in-law has my own daughter,
both babies just old enough to sit up in our arms and gaze
at us with their ancient faces, little gods. “A blessing,”
he says of the children. “A gift from God.”
Then to me, the new mother—useless, not working, not
writing, a poor cook still heavy with her birth—he says,
“This love you give her now, she keeps.”
And I can’t eat another bite. Suddenly I’m full and tasting
apple sauce and milk, my grandfather’s favorite snack.
I wish my arms were free. I wish I could embrace him
without embarrassment, the way I could my grandfather, dead
these few months and too sick before that to offer much advice,
nothing about this burden, this heavy blessing.

Next time we’re all together, I’ll tell my siblings
how this appetizer reminded me of the year
we lived in the screenhouse, the month Daddy
didn’t get paid, the week we ate the only food
left in the house–chopped olives and ketchup
on wheat bread and, when the bread ran out,
crackers–meals we still laugh about,
the taste of brine we swallow and swallow
and can’t wash down.
~ ~ ~

Amy Watkins is the oldest child of a nurse and a carpenter. When she was a girl, she dreamed of being an artist, a doctor, and a contestant on Star Search. She became a writer instead. She is the author of the chapbooks Milk & Water (Yellow Flag Press) and Wolf Daughter (forthcoming from Sundress Publications) and the art editor for Animal: A Beast of a Literary Magazine.