Learning to Pray

In the stockpot grandmother used, we’d fill
            water to its brim and season with the dust of roots.
We’d simmer pork bones and fallen apples from
            earth and use sage to stir in notes of citrus.
We shall eat from the hand of fire, siblings, and friends,
            the way peddlers share in trade,
The way grandfather put out his hand
            when a stranger came knocking at his door.

I remember the way he’d bow his head when he thought
            none of the children could see,
the way he happened upon a handful of ramps,
            coarse chopped and into the pot.
Blade of bay laurel and bite of pepper, the basic
            fixings to sooth a grumbling stomach.
An hour by, night frosted the trees,
            but the water brewed and boiled until thick.

We’d stoop by the pot, bowls cupped,
            to warm the coldness of our hands.
Stranger would kneel at my grandfather’s feet
            and thank him.
My grandfather would meet his eyes
            and bow his head in prayer.
I’ll never forget the blaze in his eyes
            and the scent of onions on his breath.

Matthew Gilbert is a recent graduate from the M.A. program in English Literature at East Tennessee State University. He has served as the 2018-2019 editor of the student-based literary journal The Mockingbird. His work has appeared in Echoes and Images, The Mockingbird, The Red Mud Review, and Delta Poetry Review.

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