Written By: Rebekah Keaton
Rubbing the soft oregano
between my fingers, I hold
your mother’s kitchen in my
how she must have ground
the warm herb under the hard pestle
and then massaged it onto a lamb shank
or under the tender skin of a chicken;
how the sharp spice fragranced the house.
Your mother, you told me, was not one
for flowers, she was not soft like that.
I assure you there are different kinds
of softness, for instance, Greek oregano,
the wild child of the tamer marjoram,
offers shining tufts of white flowers
at summer’s end.
But this botanical fact you already know.
When you were very small, your pudgy fists
clumped large handfuls of the flower
to offer for a mother’s approval,
but she had meant to save this small patch
for Sunday’s dinner, so stooping down,
she held your chin in her strong hands; you
raised your red tomato mouth to be kissed—
unprepared for how the fresh leaves of oregano
will bite, your lips puckered,
and you howled at its bitterness.
The Encyclopedia of Herbs explains,
oregano was once used mainly as a medicinal.
You nod, knowing. One afternoon you ate
a whole bag of green apples, reading beneath the stairs.
Your mother, pursing her disapproval, steeped
the green leaves with sweet honey.
Oregano, with its sharp bite and aromatic balm,
was childhood’s palate.
By the time we met, your mother had already left you.
I have seen her photograph and I have glimpsed her
in the way you pinch your lips when you cannot predict
my bite or my caress.
Your mother’s paranoia rooted in you, invasive
as oregano, that flourishes in the rockiest of landscape,
that when brushed against open lips (like a kiss)
returns one to the ancient howl, Origanum heracleoticum,
meaning joy of the mountain.
Rebekah Keaton’s poetry has appeared in various journals including, PoemMemoirStory, New Plains Review, Rust + Moth, The Healing Muse, and Blueline, and has been nominated for the pushcart prize. She earned her Ph.D. in English from Michigan State University and is currently Associate Professor of English at Niagara County Community College, just outside of Niagara Falls. She lives in Buffalo, NY with her husband and twin boys.