Stones without People and the Art of the Mulberry.
I was a piece broken off a rock ... the only one
in exile with no relatives left.
Silk worms love the Black Mulberry,
devour its tender leaves and spin
their golden cocoons that hang from the branches
in the wind. It's a fast-growing tree,
they say, ten feet in one year--imagine: 43 million,
most in the mountains of Greater Lebanon--
Then there's Ovid who made
the tree famous when Pyramus and Thisbe,
star-crossed lovers, took their lives under one.
Says their blood turned the white fruit passion-red.
Ancient fighters enflamed their combat elephants
by letting them just smell the wild berries.
Now in the flame of these waning summer days,
I imagine those trees years ago in our
backyard grove, Mother working in the sun
picking the delicate fruit, eating some,
her hands stained purple-red, as she filled her basket
to make sharab el toot,
for guests, she would say,
should any pass by unannounced.
The fruiting season is short, she would say,
allowing us to long for them the rest of the year--
which is to say she blessed the fermenting desire
that blazes up in us during a long absence.
Keep the red berries with the black
for their sharp flavor, she would say,
sliding them into a muslin bag and
pressing the juice into an earthenware pot.
Strain, add sugar and boil.
Don't stop stirring or you will have a mess,
then cool and store.
Add one tablespoon of syrup to a tumbler
of ice and water and serve to your guests
on hot summer days under shade trees.
Remember: listen to their stories. This is a gift.
Hold your mother-words, you think to yourself,
a voice, an apparition you will run after
when your days become a broken, stony field.
Now your artist daughter, here in the middle of
the Pacific Ocean, orders mulberry paper
from the old world--and sheets of silk to
transform her wedding dress into
a flame of memory. She bums Arabic names
and phrases from old passports and
the backs of photos to applique onto her gown,
mulberry black and blood red--
a museum piece, igniting the fire of retrieval
in our hearts. We know bayt
means both home and family in Arabic.
Abandoned homes are spoken of as stones
without people. Which is to say departure and
perpetual flight are like the hot windstorms
that sweep over us from the Egyptian desert,
the oppressive khamsin, a requiem of wind,
a wind that can break nails, they say,
a wind, like a blade wiped clean
leaving only a wall of dust behind.
Yet during our last slow days
when the work of grieving--that song
follows a waning moon, in the cool breeze of
our dark nights, we hold on as best we can
to those still glowing, here or not.