by hala alyan


She boils water, the
steam marbling her veil, fine-

misting her brow. The curfew
has lifted and the children

are coming for dinner. The children’s
children, too. This seizes

her throat like a joy, the
clamor that is about to rattle

the small house. She dips the grape
leaves, one by one, into the water, petite-

skirted as miniature kimonos. In
water, their dull skin shines. Next,

the rice tumbles in. She wants to talk to
Aida, prettiest granddaughter, nearly

seventeen, about what the
butcher’s uncle had confided:

they saw Aida at the beach
in a skimpy yellow bikini, lotus

flowering with her hands as
music played and a man with the

haircut of a soldier clapped. Rolling
the grape leaves is her favorite part,

it seems illicit. Flat
against the cutting board,

the leaves seem akin to starfish
or shamrocks. Wet, their green

is gorgeous. It is impossible,
raising girls in war. The rice is ready.

When she drains it, the fluid runs
colorless. They will break

or be broken, dance
for enemy men or wilt like

flags. She torsos the leaves with
rice, rolls them tightly. Stanchly,

they fold for her. The
smartest girls are catlike, plucking

scraps, turning bullets into
pendants, using glass to frame

pictures. She sets the table, lights the taupe
candle, her favorite. Under the flame’s dome,

the meal glistens emerald. (The smartest
find something to polish.) She

wants to tell Aida to put her hands
to better use, to pound love

out of cloves, pinch the mouths
of wooden pins open and nestle in

clothes for the sun to dry. She wants
to say hope can be the cruelest

mother of all. Better to tell yourself April
was built for battle. May, burial.