Memory 12: Spices

It’s dad-and-Em day
At the yellow house with red shutters
On the hill in Woodlawn, Baltimore,
By Gwynn Oak Falls, and the Jewish cemeteries
Right across the city line.
We’re going to go to the hal’al store today.
Sometimes, we go to korean, or indian,
But today, we’re going to buy goat.
Me and dad.
Dad and me.

We go to the back of the store,
The man takes a frozen goat out of the freezer
Over to the bandsaw
And asks dad if we want the head.
We sniff the spices,
And stock up
On fenugreek, cumin, coriander
Green and black cardamom,
Garam masala, sesame seeds,
Celery seeds, methe…

There’s a song playing,
I’m not sure what the language is,
Or what they are saying, I ask my dad what it is,
He asks the store owner, he buys the CD for me.
I point at an orange and green woven bracelet
I ask how much,
he says $1.00 each
Dad buys the whole pack for $20.
I know we don’t have that kind of money.

Another day, we go to the Korean grocery store
On Route 40, near the Double T-Diner
and the Montgomery Wards that they tore down.
Little brother is there too.
We walk down aisle after aisle,
Not really sure what anything is,
But we can pick anything out
New things to try,
To explore,
To learn.
We get:
pocky sticks
Fungus (my name for the dried mushrooms)
Frozen potstickers
Mung Bean noodles
Miso soup base
Ramen noodles
Dried fish
Jars of spicy pepper sauce
Soy sauce
Sesame oil
Fish sauce

Dad stirs in the seaweed
Dried fish
And mung bean noodles.
He brews chrysanthemum tea
in his big blue glass mug.

15 years later
I am in Florence, Italy
To attend an academic conference on genocide
Where I am presenting.
I am hit by a wall of blackness.
I can’t see through the clouds over my eyes
Grey, dark, and heavy.
I look hard at the stones in the street,
Trying to make out where one stops and where the other starts.
The blankets can’t shield me from their looks.

One step in front of the other
Darkness everywhere I look
Emanating from within me
Staining the earth
A floating orb


I smell
I see
I am flooded
With memories
Of smelling spices
With dad
Cooking, tasting
Shopping, exploring, learning.
Slowly my senses sharpen.
I wander into the international grocery store
Cumin for dad’s chili
Fenugreek for dad’s potato soup
Oregano for dad’s ratatouille
Garam Masala for dad’s chicken
Bright red tandoori
Bright yellow chili powder
Leafy green methi
I can see color
I can breathe


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