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Church Ladies

My husband told me about the Lebanese enclave on the West Side,

shopping at Morgan’s for flat bread and kibbi,

his mother digging up dandelion greens, pulling grape leaves from

chain-link fence.

He remembers Aunts Mary, Janet, Jamila, and Amelia sipping coffee at

the table,

gossiping about neighbors or rolling out bread, five offerings for holy


the mother of God, the angels and saints, the living, and the dead.

Mostly, he remembers food words: mishwi, kafta, kusa, baba ghannuj,

hummus bit-tahini, lubyi, falafil, laban, and zlaby.

Every Tuesday was yakhnit, chicken stewed in tomatoes and onions.

I attempted to re-create what only his mother could create, hanging

yogurt enmeshed in oozing cheesecloth to the kitchen spigot; breaking

vermicelli into sizzling olive oil; coring zucchini to stuff with rice and

lamb; marinating chicken with lemon and garlic;

pureeing baked eggplant with tahini not as good as what the ladies made

at the old Holy Family, the little Lebanese church amid a delightful

mélange of German, Irish, Polish, and Mexican families with foods all

their own.

He misses the soft voices with guttural accents, his mother’s pickled

turnips and green olives.

He remembers the stained-glass window etched with his father’s name,

the smell of sweet, wafting incense.

Poem: DONNA ISAAC is a poet and teacher who has published a poetry book, Footfalls (Pocahontas Press), and two chapbooks, Tommy (Red Dragonfly Press) and Holy Comforter (Red Bird Chapbooks). Her poetry appears in various literary magazines. She works as a teaching artist throughout the Twin Cities and helps organize community poetry readings. Find out more at

Photo: Morgan's on the West Side, 1989. Courtesy of MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY.


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