Sestina for Saba
I’d watch from the kitchen table as the juice ran down his fingers,
hoping, knowing that he would give me half.
“Are you hungry, sweetie?” he’d say, rinsing his hands with warm water.
He always knew the answer.
“Ask me nicely,” he’d say. “Use your words.”
My saba was indisputably a master of words.
He knew the ancient tapestries of “turkey” and “orange,”
trying to pique my interest with their origins, but my closed eyes rudely answered.
He would puzzle over Hebrew crosswords, pen clenched between his fingers,
straining his brain: word for “a steady stream of water.”
“Zerem!” he’d mutter, feeling clever by half.
For most of my life, I saw my grandfather as half
of a collective entity of Saba-Savta. My savta used words
like “cookieleh” to address my grandfather—“Cookieleh, some water
for me, lukewarm, quarter of a cup.” She wore scarves of orange
then—perhaps not anymore—wedding ring tight on her finger.
My saba would nod curtly, a stoic’s answer.
They were intellectual soul mates, keen to answer
each other’s biblical queries: “Was Solomon’s solution to cleave the baby in half
a sign of his lack of compassion?” Steepling his fingers,
my grandfather would mull this over, asking to look closely at the words.
I would offer my bible as reference when I was younger. It was orange,
with many pictures, rippled from spilled water.
By eighty-one, he had to beg for water.
“Perhaps some tea?” The nurses had no answer.
His throat was swollen, a mottled red and orange,
parched. He labored for days to form words
with his dried, skeletal lips. But the mental half
of him hummed, brain screaming, “Just lift a finger!”
In the last three hours, the soul slipped through the fingers,
wandering the hospice in one last desperate search for water.
He didn’t have any notable final words
because he was convinced he’d stay, even though leaving was the answer.
He isn’t hurting anymore, says my rational half.
The rest of me is squeezed dry, a dusty pulp of orange.
In my mind, those long fingers work on a Mobius peel of orange,
and my heart turns to water—there are no words,
his condition had no answer, and there’s no one left to eat the other half.