Questions for My Grandmother; Miriam’s Well
Questions for My Grandmother
Would you teach me how to make mashed potatoes creamy
without milk? How many times have you woken up at night,
unable to sleep and made oatmeal? If you were alive, would you still
say motzi before eating bread? What would you say
if I told you I would feel safer eating Milano cookies at home
than at synagogue saying Kaddish? The dark chocolate
is dependable, smooth, and firm after the rest disintegrates
in milk, the way a woman stolen from her home survives
in each new town she is taken, no matter how cold.
What cookies did you eat before the war in Uzhhorod? What wood
was your kitchen table made of? Do you remember
the last meal with your whole family?
Did you have mashed potatoes?
I read a rumor that in the days before the Chernobyl disaster
and before the Silver Bridge in West Virginia collapsed,
people in the towns saw a dark, winged creature with red
eyes. Red like you’ve never seen red before. Did you ever stop
dreaming in Hungarian? When you saw her (stone arm, mighty
woman with a torch) did you feel safer in this much younger country?
In Pittsburgh, did you ever stare at the mouth of the Ohio river
and remember the Uzh? I found a black bird in my house last year,
standing on the shower pole like it was a telephone wire. It took a bath
in our toilet bowl. What I mean is, should I be afraid? I think you know
the signs. I never found the opening he came through. I didn’t
see his eyes. Did I let him in?
Before they left me in the desert,
the men said it was below my collarbone,
dry now, but under the right conditions
it would fill with water. They said
when my body became hot enough,
close enough to dying, it would trigger
something physical. They brought me here.
They told me it would involve the muscles
used to give birth, that I just needed
to control my breathing; they told me to meditate.
All I needed to do was fill, they said.
It shouldn’t be too hard. One man grinned
at another. After the men left me,
they returned to their cool homes
filled with the smell of garlic-roasted
chicken, baking. I sat in the sand, rocks dug
into my bare thighs, heat pressed on
my neck and shoulders, sand blew
through my closed lips, between
my teeth, crunching when I bit down.
The skin on my hands was cracked
and bleeding. There was no way a woman
with hands this dry could have a well
inside. I imagined its depth,
its crumbling clay walls
carved with images of camels,
children’s names. I called my own name,
listening for an echo. At the edge, I dropped
in several stones and listened, hearing nothing,
no end to the well or water at its bottom.
What if no instinct kicked in? What if I died
here alone, so out in the open? I waited
for the men to return and say they were wrong,
that I had already done enough in the reeds
by the river, my skin scratched
and bitten. The men would apologize
for asking me to create
a well and then I would spit
into their faces. The more I wanted, the wider
I became, mouthing water in every language.