With a broken-down oven, in a hotel kitchen, on an uninhabited island
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I’m strolling along the docks of Akko, a port town in Israel,
with a woman I’ve never met before,
an ancient cousin named Elesheva, frail in head scarf,
her eyes like delicate cups of ink.
She’s resting her arm on mine, as if I might be her escort
to some long-ago cotillion, and the night around us
breathes spices as we stroll the planks.
My mother has told me to be kind to Elesheva
and that’s no problem, because I love my mother
and her loud, true family and the loss they have absorbed.
There’s a shop here, Elesheva says.
She sounds like an old torch singer, rickety and torn. Shall we?
And we do, the Arab merchant eyeing us
as we sniff the scrolls of cinnamon,
cardamom dunes, rosemary in fragrant laurels.
I so loved dill, Elesheva says, bending close to the needles.
Yes, dill was very good to me.
Along the docks of Akko, music flows impossibly from somewhere:
waltzes, concertos, the mournful chords of Chopin.
And I think how quaint she is, there beside me,
ready to clasp my hand and take a turn on her brittle legs.
The spices fly away and the golden light goes, is gone.
There are no ships in this port,
black water surrounds the moorings.
If I hold Elesheva, she will die in my arms
and I will have to bury her in this ocean
and her bones will float.