Picking at the Seeds

By Lilian Mehrel 

I have always felt a visceral lifting in my stomach when I watch my mother peel pomegranates. They are impossible to separate neatly — their insides rip like Velcro-lined jewels, pieces of the white foam-like rind stuck to the seeds. We are queens of the underworld with the seeds in our teeth and my mother’s fingernails stained with the juices. Somehow these fruits, like carmine breasts, hang from the memories of my mother’s family tree. They are an ancient and Near Eastern fruit, what Eve really liked to eat instead of little figs. Maybe it’s because my mother grew up eating them in Iran and brought that with her when she wove her life here, along with gold coins and the Persian New Year.

I wrote a poem about this once, what my mother brought with her to give to me. Among the poem’s images of double pomegranates and hearts, full moons, and a flying mother, there is a stanza about my birth:

Already when she knew me as a stomach moth
With alloy wings, wrapped up in her modern daughter.
Already she had plucked her heart from its humid strings, put it on my pillow.

I appear again in the poem in the last stanza:

My mother shouldered her heart and learned
To windsurf, just in case.
To tell me, This is yours.
To have a daughter, sitting in a moth-eaten closet, her nose
In the perfume of a doppelganger.

The windsurfing is my mother’s idea of how to escape in case the Iranian revolution ever happened again. And the part when I’m a moth in my mother’s stomach isn’t real, but I do have two hearts: my mother’s and my own. So I sit in her closet and lift her silk scarves to my face, breathing in all that is my background. It smells something like pomegranate.

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To read the rest of Lilian's story, see her book.