My grandmother was eighty
when she insisted on visiting Paris
for the first time in her frail state.
One night in the biting gust of Champs-Elysées,
I saw her start to shiver hard &
my mom opened & wrapped herself around
her old but still-eager cold mother
as we were afraid she’d collapse,
though she wanted the world to see!
A memory that caresses me
at the cemetery on a hilltop
in my birthplace,
what used to be Smyrna.
The hill, my grandmother can’t climb,
so she & I are alone on its skirts,
everyone else atop it.
In the bitter chill of winter again
my grandma shudders
with her palms open, raised toward the sky
as the imam sings a prayer & we watch.
From a distance we watch
grave-diggers moving lithely to house
a coffin with my grandpa in it.
In a fail-safe half moon my arms are wrapped
around my grandmother & I keep her
from catching a cold as we gaze at strange men
who move shovels up & down
for her husband of half a century.
Time is an extension
of itself in living hearts,
a child of death, bred as hollow seconds;
the heart is a shivery clock.
What time lacks
(when, without an end,
minutes themselves are nothing)
it enacts & adores in us:
the live midst of one darkness
My own grandpa with the copper-warm glance,
has departed his body.
Jarred by the separation,
we contain & cover our kin.
Only last summer we were having surmullets
& meze with Raki at a restaurant not far
from the cemetery where he bought his gravesite
in his old stomping grounds, a town called Karşıyaka—
(His hilltop overlooks a few houses,
St. Helena’s Church & the Kemalpaşa Mosque, also
granting glimpses of spry palm trees
& a sliver of jade-tinged Aegean Sea.)
Nearby, we had raised our glasses
& nourished our bodies
in a sea-salt lull, as the air is often gentle.
No one before has seen grandpa like this,
absent, boxed-up; he is our memory,
time having run out of breadth in his body
as we remain in his town,
near his tobacco shops
& the playgrounds he took me to
by the hand when I was small.
This spring he will not smell
the fresh green-plums that fragrance the air.
It is an abstraction of reality to be dead,
a formlessness strange & quick to remind me
of my mother’s lesson of holding,
of extending ourselves to hold in
So I give my heat to my grandmother,
arms vigilant around her,
filled with her & our mutual defiance
as we wonder at my
in the safe of his coffin
& two verging grave lots,
one for husband,
one for wife.