by Jacqueline Gens
You don’t see them at first
till you stop and look
slowly at the loose leaves
and winter debris
scattered across the forest floor.
After awhile, tufts of greenery emerge,
thousands of tender shoots ,
still too early to pick.
This is the method I learned from Yettie--
Sephardic Jew from Salonika--
once my neighbor on Packers Corner Road.
To gather morrels one year, we sat on
the ground until we noticed our field of vision
shifting to nascent specks of white.
She's here because of her grandfather's second sight
reading in tea leaves that things
were not as they seemed.
They left the dinner table, food half eaten,
for distant Aegean Isles surviving the war
because of his divinations.
The real miracle-- year after year
the leeks grow only in this one place.
Each spring, I try to remember
Their irony taste, drawn from deep humus,
decayed pine, juniper, crushed maple leaves,
moss, and rotted wood--
Often, I forget the wild leeks of Keats Brook Road
I can't remember how we ended up
in this New England neighborhood—
my mother, Olga (like Yettie), worlds from her native Shanghai
where bombs fell, first from Japanese then American planes
as she rode her bicycle through the city
to collect bread rations from the Jewish ghetto.
Her heroic stories our dinner conversation for decades—
We knew that daily ride through fear: sounds, smells,
her chronic hunger, the blown up bits of pregnant women and children
"It’s the shrapnel that kills you, you know, not the bombs."
We allowed her the telling over and over
surrounded by her collection of Americana.
She’s here in the woods now
buried over the hill on Carpenter Road,
Some years, I do remember the harvest
of wild leeks with their bitter vitality,
my mind a continuity of pungent smells and thoughts:
family, friends, survival, the old world still here
growing on a hillside in Vermont each year---
regardless if we live or die,
holding forth as though eternal
in a wild assembly of tenderness.