Elegy for Sara and her City

My grandmother was all I knew of Damascus.
She lived for over seventy years in Amman
but remained a Damascene. Her morning
coffee unsweetened, chaste. Her distaste for the messiness
of a newer country sometimes uncontained.
Some years she made her own vinegar,
slender bottles of it, blushing rose, bitter and
tranquil on the shelves of a modest pantry. Other years,
she made her own apricot preserves. When the tree
behind the kitchen window had been generous
she simmered the fruit, sunsets she nestled in salvaged jar.
The rice she made was legendary, each grain coaxed
to suppleness by salt and steam, a dish my grandfather
would sprinkle with sugar and eat for dessert
were it not for her gentle chiding.
My grandmother was all I knew of Damascus.
She always folded a tissue, a dove’s wing
at the edge of her sleeve. Lemon blossom water
lingered beneath her ear lobes, at her wrists. She floated
gardenias in coffee cups and wore her sapphire ring
to sit with us in the garden. For as long as she was my grandmother,
tea was served once the last verses of afternoon
prayer were intoned, sipped like the words of the suras,
amber darkening on elegant lips. Never more
than one teaspoon of sugar, stirred soundlessly
with the smallest spoon.

Lena Khalaf Tuffaha
Lena Khalaf Tuffaha is an American writer of Palestinian, Syrian, and Jordanian heritage. Her first book of poems, WATER & SALT, is published by Red Hen Press (2017). Her chapbook, ARAB IN NEWSLAND, won the 2016 Two Sylvias Prize. Her most recent work is published in Lunch Ticket, Boston Review, LitHub, Michigan Quarterly Review, and New England Review.