She sings to me in her native tongue
and I echo her, my Southern accent
ruining the melody as we prepare ingredients.
Her unabashed amusement and delighted
commentary, playful jabs at my pronunciation
earn a smile as she starts a new playlist and begs,
“Please, try to sing this for me.”
I crank up the music as I plug in the grill.
She warms as my voice cracks,
pieces it together
with her melodic tones,
matches my volume after half a song;
caricatures come alive, cackles cleansing
the night. We blend together so well.
The chicken (tavuk) sizzles
on the George Foreman, my nonexistent
skills with outdoor grills a silent threat
to my undoubted fragile masculinity.
The scent of curry and smoky mesquite flavor
the air as she wraps sarma, stuffed and rolled
grape leaves, and arranges them, gentle as comfort
food on cold nights, on the platter.
The presentation is the true key.
She doesn’t have to think to swaddle sarma;
she just does. Her mother taught
her so well that the instructions etched
life lines into her palms. I want to know her
as well as she remembers grape leaves,
so well I can embrace her heavy, her days
where talking carries too much weight,
mold them to my unassuming still, my nights
where she knows we can sit and say nothing
and I will not claim she doesn’t love me,
and have her come out mended
every time, lighter, reassured that I will not leave. She starts
the vegetables next, sauteed onions and affection
paired with fried tomatoes and peppers
(domates ve biber kızarttım).
She twists a curl as she fries up insecurities.
Her focus causes silence except crackling doubts,
so I remind her that her laugh
is my favorite dish.
She chops English words and grates
them down into Turkish equivalents,
like fridge (buzdolabı) and glass (bardak)
and love (sevgi).
Seni seviyorum. I love you.
Biliyorum. I know.
She breathes my middle name
like it’s as familiar as an old family recipe --
Everett--, but tonight as we label the kitchen,
she shortens it to Ev, and I don't mention
that my mind equates it to naming me
the Turkish word for home.
She is my home, too.
She smiles the same way she did
the first time she reciprocated
my proclamation of devotion
to us in any capacity, casts her eyes
anywhere but mine,
and melts the words
You know. . . Yakışırız ama.*
We could be good together.
But we know the truth, know
that no matter how far she drops
the pulleyed basket out of her kitchen window
to lift me up and gather me into her arms,
love has 5,700 miles of desolate ocean
and missed connections between us,
and her rope will remain an outstretched
hand too short. For now, these Friday digital
meals are the single sense of normalcy we have.
Maybe we will be separated
all our lives by six inch screens
and endless airwaves, but we still
make memories we enjoy.
Maybe it can be enough.
Maybe it has to be.
After dinner, as her voice begins to fade,
I whisper my dreams across the wires and say,
“When you go, al beni yanina--
take me with you.
I will be your home.”
*Author’s note: I have seen a few different translations for “Yakışırız ama,” including the one I used (“We could be good together”) as well as things like “We would look good together.” This phrase is a song lyric from “Çok Çok” by Edis, and when I asked my friend that this poem is about the translation, she said that since it was a song lyric there were a few ways to translate it that all had the same basic meaning, and the translation I used was one of those that had the right basic meaning. It worked best for this poem, but I apologize if it is translated incorrectly!
Dakota Alexander (he/him) is a trans individual who currently shares his home with his two cats and his dog. He has an MLIS and is in school again for a degree in Cyber Operations. He loves to travel, attend concerts, and learn languages. Twitter-- @kotaonthecoast