I was five, rolling grape leaves
into thick fingers: meshi. Ne touche pas,
ne touche pas, my father trying to hug
his mother's back, proudly bowedbefore the oven. God-damned French
hudda. Everyone laughedwhen Grandpa swore in Arabic, as ifthe language itself were a punch line.
Plucking grape leaves fromthe patio vine. Everyone reachingfor words to describe them, all garliclemon on the tongue. Why did he talkto her like that? Washing,spreading the leaves open,veins pointed up. Grandma's tonguea Beirut convent, Grandpa's tongue
planted between his teeth, biting offhis Arabic. It was pride,the way they held
or lashed their tongues. Spooning spiced riceinto the palm. Folding the baseinward to center. Grandpa scolded a cusser:
what kind of language is that? Aromaof arms. Tucking the wings in—but unwinding, undone in young fingers.I can't keep them all together. Laying torn leavesto blanket the pot. Years later, lying inmy father's room, in summer'soven, I heard them, whispering, in their bed. Beyondthe wall, all embers and breathing.