It’s the worst—but it tastes so good.
- G. Stern

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I came from school to warm bread
and tsibele bulkes: Russian rolls, onions
in wells her palm pressed in the dough, softened in sweet
butter and baked in. Little pillows, fragrant as flesh.
I’d eat a few with cold milk at two. Five-thirty, supper
was on the table, Dad home between shows and hungry

for soup with knaidlach and boiled chicken. I was still hungry
afterward for a heel of black bread
smeared with rendered chicken fat. Shabbes, supper
had to be chicken. No milk on the table. Onions,
salt, and fat were what she put in chopped liver, start of a fleysh-
meal. To end it, fruit in thin, sweet

syrup: compote—pears, prunes plumped with cooking, sweet-
ened with raisins. No one left the table hungry
or thought there was anything wrong with fattening childflesh
at three meals and between: mon cookies, hunks of rye bread,
batter licked from the bowl. I watched her knife cleave onions,
carrots for tzimmes, beets for borscht. Pesach, supper

was called a Seder—not an ordinary supper.
Matzo folded in a cloth napkin, goblets filled with sweet
red wine—they spilled drops for each of the plagues. Glazed onions
and brisket waited while uncles prayed. I sat there hungry,
wondering at the strangeness of a week with no bread.
In candlelight, my grandmother’s warm flesh-

folds shone, the rough crepe of her peasant flesh
smoothed with Jergens lotion. She scoured sinkfuls of pots after supper
then sat and ate some of her own unleavened bread
baked with matzo mel and sucked sweet
tea through cubes of sugar. I sat with her, hungry
for stories of the old days, when sometimes even onions

were scarce but everyone told jokes. Onions
couldn’t make you cry if you ran water while you cut their raw flesh.
She always knew you were hungry, everyone was hungry,
and she sneaked cream into your coffee, if it was a milchik supper,
even if you said you wanted it black. Her voice was Russian music, sweet
even when she said harsh things. I can’t think of her without tasting bread—

no one made better bread. She gave me the taste for onions,
the oily flesh of carp, the cold thick sweet-
ness of sour cream on a blintz for supper. God forbid I should be hungry.

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tsibele bulkes — onion rolls
knaidlach — matzo balls
Shabbes — the Sabbath
fleyshedik — made with meat
mon — poppy seed
tzimmes — mixed vegetable dish often containing carrots, sweet potato, prunes, and spices
Pesach — Passover
Seder — ritual Passover meal
matzo — unleavened bread
matzo mel — meal made from ground matzo
milchik — made with dairy products