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December 29, 2004

To root themselves in their new home
Mother and Baba planted native trees: madrone, oak
And the manzanita at the end of the drive.
To remind them of their foreignness,
They planted olive, almond, quince, pomegranate.

The first time my mother packed one in my lunch,
I shrunk in embarassment, quickly returning
the leathery bulb to the brown bag.
How to eat a pomegranate without being conspicuous?
It is a slow and exacting endeavor,
an act of worship.

"You never slice them with a knife," my father would say
when the September heat had made the trees
sag with the heavy ornaments of Autumn.
In his world, men would sell them on the streets
for a few toumans, shouting, "Anar-e Khoshmazeh!"
"Delicious pomegranates!" while rolling the sun-flushed hides
between two palms.
Customers stood at the corner of a cart,
Kneading, coaxing the last of the blood-red juice from a hole,
Never allowing it to touch anything but their lips.

Our American sensibility refused this technique.
We never took their exotic form for granted.
"Throw them in the air, let them crack open,"
my brothers yelled, waiting for the quiet
thud and then the invisible seam
that split them open like an unhealed wound.
I liked the splatter of its color on face and hands,
The evidence of pomegranate carnage.

Once in my twenties, waiting in a chiropractic office
I flipped through a new-age health magazine.
Women wanting to conceive should eat
estrogen-rich foods: shrimp, scallops, pomegranates.
Like the larvae of some magical butterfly
They were a cure for barren women.

'There are two kinds of people in the world:
Those who pluck the seeds from the waxy yellow
Membrane and toss them in their mouths--
And those who hoard the pile of ruby jewels,
jealousy guarding them until the last
kernel is devoured.

Once in a child's game of war,
My brother plucked the pomegranate,
Tore off its feathery crown
And mimicked the sound of a grenade
Exploding with his mouth full of saliva.
"Bury it" I said, looking at its inedible remains.
Baba would not tolerate such sacrilege.

When I learned a Sephardic version of the fall--
That it was a pomegranate and not an Apple
I felt a kind of secret pride.
It's too cold for apples in the garden of Eden
I said to a friend, knowing
they wouldn't be wearing fig leaves.

This fall my two-year-old son,
Undaunted, eats his first pomegranate.
His tiny, probing fingers, harvest the seeds
One by one. With hands stained
by this baptism, he offers them to me,
Like the remnants of an untold story
inherited in the womb.

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Persis Karim


Book of the day

Borrowed Ware
Medieval Persian Epigrams
Translated by Dick Davis

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