My grandmother was a great cook.

Because of that,

a crumple of tinfoil in the freezer

holds the last thing I have

from her hands.

Her cheese borag recipe:

  • 1 package frozen phyllo dough, thawed
  • 1 pound jack cheese, shredded
  • 2 cubes butter (salted), melted
  • 1 large egg, beaten

She stopped putting parsley in them

when my dad stopped 

liking green—one of those sacred

traditions that only changes

for youngest sons;

one of those simple traditions

(inherent, dreamlike),

that the hands of eldest daughters

keep when the mind draws

a blank— 

She clears the counter (except 

for bowls of water and butter, a greased pan)

and unfolds sheets of pastry,

cutting it into thick strips,

“Don’t drag the knife, it’ll tear.”

She dips her fingers in water and pulls

apart the stack by ply,

brushing each with butter, 

“Don’t press, it’ll tear.”

She spoons the filling on the end, edges meet

and fold into a triangular parcel,

“Don’t overstuff, it’ll tear.”

Top with extra butter and bake— 

350°, hotter? 10 minutes, longer?

“Don’t think, it’ll tear.”

—until the phyllo flakes and

butter pools and browns.

She knew she was dying two days

before the virus put her 

lungs in the hospital, 

before I saw sparse notes and blanks

on her recipe cards.

Aluminum gleans in the frostbite.

Cold air swaddles my face

as I close the freezer door.

Jordan Nishkian is an Armenian-Portuguese writer based in California. Her prose and poetry explore themes of duality and have been featured in national and international publications. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Mythos literary magazine and published her first novella, Kindred, in 2021.

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