Mahlab by Talin Tahajian

I stand with Grandmother, rinse
a dish with warm milk, watch yeast
froth. She cups flour in her palms,
presses it into her cuts. Claims
it clots the blood.

My father opens the door, throws
a sack of mahlab to the counter, a bible
at my back. It breaks skin. Consider
the mahaleb cherry: thin flesh, bitter
tissue, harvested for its seed. Consider
mahlab: ground seed.

Grandmother picks up the bible,
does not blink. Knuckles coated
in starch, she peels off my shirt, feels
what I cannot hide. Feels ridges.
She presses flour into the red,
swears that I will heal. Tells me
to think of men.

We watch batter swell. Consider vanilla,
butter, brandy. Consider whole cloves,
an egg yolk, a stillborn. We knead dough,
imagine rebirth.

Grandmother adds the mahlab, hands
callused from handling seed, the grit.
Votch, aghtchig. I want to understand
the bread, how to rise.

2014, 1st Place Poetry Winner