Tamara L. Panici
Mama’s Lessons on Sarmale
Uită-te, to make sarmale, you must understand the difference between
wanted and unwanted. The key being a perception,
a human invention. Do not forget. You are
both wanted and unwanted. Seen one way
and the exact opposite. Do not let this confuse your stride,
my scooped out soul, my little bruised one.
To make sarmale, take the unwanted heads, the browning
leaves chewed on the edges. Work through your hands.
Fill each layer of cabbage with the flesh of forgotten beasts. Season
with sweet spices and dessicated herbs. The grubby little sarmale will bake
the duration of a small eternity, stinking of fermentation and hard boiled eggs.
Here again, the smell of loved ones rotting in the trenches. We ignore
our innocence. Hunger guiding, and with no morsel in sight,
my legs set out—virgin feet through November’s hard frost,
a collapsing bible tucked into my coat, engulfed by enemies
and their promises of retaliation. Even the forest wanted us
for who we were not. Every snapping branch was a gun.
Crushed acorns, grenades. I will not say in words
that you do not understand this kind of death;
I will say it in glances. You do not know what it is like to be anything
but an open space. Understand, I was expected to give
what little belonged to me in life. The guide refused
to go on until we abandoned all sounds in an empty field.
I kept only my own thoughts, and I dared to think of the world
as something I could want. Little flower, do not hold
your head down. Let the cabbage turn into anything that will fuel us.
Forget the bugs between each fold who want only to sustain their tiny lives.
This is how it is done. Know it is worth the work.
This poem was originally published in the MER 18 “Home” issue.
Tamara L. Panici’s works have appeared or are forthcoming in POETRY, Waxwing, Black Warrior Review, Passages North, Poetry Online, and elsewhere. She was a finalist for the 2021 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation and winner of the 2021 Black Warrior Review Poetry Contest. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her partner and their daughter.