I cannot know

if his love danced
in romantic tones
and heartfelt song

he has no language 
no words to describe
beyond survival
and necessity

the love he 
holds in his
worn and worried
heart -

I've had to sense it
uncover it
It had to be felt. 

I found meaning
outside of the 
literal interpretations
of abrupt speech
and long silences.

There were no
words used wastefully,
in spurts of 
emotional wind 

he uses no breath
excessively.

Perhaps romance
is for those
who have time.

He speaks of his first 
and last 
love
as if she 
was born of his
heart 

Inseparable 
intolerable
one and the same

it is confluence 
without 
codependence.

I had to learn love
in actions
in crinkled smiles
in lasting impacts of 
fleeting, fragile emotion.

Love existed because
they made it so
in ways permanent 
and necessary
as the food and drink
they offered freely.

In his recliner
next to her bed
they sleep
and will sleep

because rest escapes him
when she is not there.

Chamomile

He tells me its name
in his native tongue.

I do not understand, at first
until I smell its fragrance
floral and sweet;
subtle.

Chamomile.

He directs me upstairs
in broken English;
I pray I understand enough.

"Grab a bunch,
wrapped
in newspaper."

There in the attic
of the duplex that
two brothers 
made homes,

I find the dried stems
and flower -

Grown in the garden
that's fed family
for 70 years.

I bring down a bundle
and she, before 
she lost herself,
stands at
the stove,
boils a pot of water
and places a handful
into the simmering water.

She makes tea.

She makes tea for 
her and I.
I take a sip
as her cup sits
she will not drink.

She watches me
and smiles.

Now
years later
chamomile 
will remind me of them;
their home and their 
garden.

How fitting

This flower 
holds many 
salves

it is simple yet
honored

Its humble
and enduring.

Chamomile 
becomes
the symbol
of my roots.  



butter and jam

At the counter 
a plate of eggs and sausage 
act as sides to the main
act;

Toast
homemade jam
butter spread 
thick, without 
apology

As a child 
she added extra;
lined each slice 
layered and thick

Butter was her 
language 
of love 

Enjoy this 
without worry,
her actions said 

Your body is 
perfect
when its 
satiated

sit here 
let me 
feed you

I can hear her
in every bite 

I see her hands 
in each layer 

I smile 
when a lot 
still isn’t 
quite right 

It’s only ever enough 
for her and for me 
when our hearts
are full 


In the next room

In one room
my grandmother begs for peace.
She cries for her mother,
screams in confusion and pain.
 
In the kitchen, he cooks dinner alone.
Smelts, fresh bread, salad, a beer.
I watch my grandfather as he moves
quiet and purposeful.
 
He fries the fish as he holds back tears.
He hears his wife cry out in pain.
His own is angry, frustrated.
He tells me,
 
“this was not supposed to happen.
This is not how I imagined the end.”
 
He sits at the kitchen table
the Steelers’ game plays in front of him
He does not notice me watching
as he drizzles hot sauce on his meal.
 
He turns, sensing me behind him,
tells me to grab a plate.
I do, knowing this is an important offering.
 
He fixes me dinner,
too many smelts than I can stomach,
salad, and bread.
I begin to eat silently next to him
 
This is his language of love.
 
He gets up suddenly
grabs a glass from the cupboard
pours half of his beer in the glass.
He hands it to me.
 
I drink. I take him in.
I say nothing. Because I know
he needs this. He needs me
to be silent with him, to eat
the food he has made
to accept what love
he has left to give.
 
To do something
anything.