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Melissa E. Jordan


Listen to Melissa E. Jordan read "Shem-el-Nessim"


Once, though! Slapped awake by the taunting fumes
     of a halved onion held to his nostrils, rising to
Join the ritual river walk,
Carrying their grandmother’s reeking feseekh and
     the sulphurous greens, the colored eggs nested in braided bread—
Crowd-flung, they scented out the equinoxal shock rumored
     to have saved a pharaoh’s son.

The wind carries it in its belly; its nurse is the earth.

Then the years, the exile—who knows?
Hollowed it into an annual listless picnic,
     drained of brine, bite, vapor.

He told me these things just before Easter,
Traded them at the doorstep for an earlier parting.
When he left, hearth-bound (I hissed),
I stalked the yard, surveyed my weapons to hand—
     the spikes and spears of early spring.

She would not think to do this.
I inventoried new shoots of wild lettuce; marveled how the 
Egyptian walking onions had stealthily propelled themselves,
     end over end, onto the footpath:
Tips birthing bulbs.

I found clownish early shocks of yellow lupin—
     spared, sprouted brothers of last summer’s pickled seeds.
(If I brought him the ginger jar,
Would the raised lid conjure his uncle’s trick:
Hold each briny disk—termis—between the front teeth, tongue-nudging
     the sheer outer layer from the meaty bean?)
She would not think to do this. 

I paid out my weeks, salting and sun-drying raw mullet,
     courting botulism from dubiously-translated recipes,
Moving in an amniotic scrum
     of vinegar, liquamen, olive oil, green sap.
I gentled eggshells into soapy water; 
Dyed each halved pair in successive baths
      of beet, onion skin, turmeric.    He

At first breeze, I pulled the greens, retrieved the salted fish,
Eased the skin off each lupin bean, each one.
Chopped and mixed my harvest, foreign and domestic,
Spooned pungent mounds into marbled shells,
     packed a river map.
Muttered, invoked: the fish, the lettuce, the green onion, the lupin, the egg:  
     feseekh, lettuce, onion, termis, egg….  

Kettle, basin, mustard powder.
I carried the footbath to him, the day’s first ritual.
Shem-el-Nessim, I whispered. Smell the breezes.



Melissa E. Jordan was raised in southeastern Connecticut. She has worked as a newspaper reporter and as an editor/writer for anti-hunger publications. Jordan is now a freelance journalist and amateur permaculturist living in Litchfield County, Connecticut.
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