"God showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand… and it was round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought: 'What can this be?' And it was generally answered thus: 'It is all that was made.' It was so small I thought it might disappear, but I was answered... everything has being through the love of God." --Julian of Norwich

Monday, August 30, 2010

Food and Me, #10: Diptych, Christ in two panels

Panel II.

After we visit the gravesite
and cry and hold one another,
we go out for lunch. And after
lunch we are tired and full, but we agree
to stop by Auntie Asha’s house, just for
fifteen minutes. Not a minute more.
I have a paper to finish.
And no heart for family.

When we arrive in Auntie’s red kitchen,
greeted by three generations of kisses
and the steel drum lilt of Trini voices,
the roti flour is already mixed
and kneaded, waiting for hands,
waiting to be divided into paratha
and dhalpuri. I poke my fingers
into the cotton-white dough
and learn with my fingers
the perfect proportions
of flour, baking powder,
salt and water to rise.

I give Grandma a kiss,
but I don’t think she knows who I am
until I say, “I’m learning to make roti,
Grandma!” Comprehending shines
on her wrinkled, cinnamon face.

Auntie Annie rolls the paratha
into a flat, white disk. A sprinkle
of flour, a smear of soft butter.
She cuts the dough into three strips
stacks them and rolls them together
into a great lump to rest.
Grandma sits and watches
from her chair like a throne.
“You ain’ doin’ it right,”
the queen of roti complains.
But even in her regal disdain,
she leans forward with excitement,
a little girl spying the action.

Uncle Al brings out the grinder
and the boiled golden dhal
becomes a soft flour. Asha
calls out for the geera,
“It’s behind your head!”
I root in the cabinet,
“Is this it?” “I don’t know,
let me smell it.” As the jar
opens the smell of cumin fills the room
and the dhal becomes roti.
The hands of three women
cup dough and scoop in the dhal,
carefully closing each into a ball.

The paratha is done resting.
Annie rolls it on the red counter
back into a white circle,
brushing oil on the heavy iron
tawa and slapping a full white moon
into its black sky.

“The last thing you have to do,”
Annie says grabbing the toasty hot roti
in an old dish towel with faded blue flowers,
"is bust it up.” She bunches the
perfect disk into a ball,
shreds it and presents it to me with a smile:
“Paratha…bus’-up-shut.” It looks just
like the broken shirt that is named for.

And now the dhalpuri
is ready for rolling and frying.
I do the flipping, while Margaret,
whose son brought me into this kitchen,
rolls. Her sisters laugh. Auntie Lisa
gets out her camera. “Look
at the American girl making roti!”
The oil pricks my skin
as the roti slaps down,
rises up with steam.

The glass table on the back porch
is spread with love--curry chicken and
coconut shrimp, sour pomsite fruits,
ripe figs, sweet basmati rice, lettuce salad.
And roti.

And Grandma tries to eat her napkin.
She scowls at me, “Dis roti bittah.”
“Ma, that’s not roti!” Lisa says,
and takes the napkin. We eat curry
with our fingers, wrap it in layers of roti.
We wag our tongues to cool their burning.

After fifteen minutes times eight,
we leave with a bag of roti, resurrected.


  1. Thanks, Cindy! This means so much to me!

  2. these two poems are utterly lovely. i felt hungry and wholesome just reading them.

  3. I'm glad you liked them Kristin!