The Barrow · Anastasia Vassos

John 12:24: ...unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it >remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.

The earth is settling.
It’s been over a year
and still no headstone
to interrupt
the earth’s icy crust.
The guise of the sun
hits the heap
of dust.

I haven’t eaten
and I hunger.
Before she died
she craved oysters
baked in rock salt.
The succulent tongues
sheltered, mute. The shells stacked
on a cracked blue plate.

The antique Greeks tied
adjective to noun —
small coin — to name kolyva
the mournful food they bartered
to keep alive their dead.
Odd treat that mixes
bitter and sweet.

I can see the recipe
in Mother’s hand:
Boiled wheat berries.
Parsley. Yellow raisins.
Sesame seeds.
Amass the kolyva
in the shape of a burial mound
on a platter.
Crush crackers on top
to keep the final coat
of sugar from melting
into the mound.

Some recipes call
for pomegranate seeds
when they’re in season.
I add six just in case.


Anastasia Vassos’s poems appear/are forthcoming in Thrush, Gravel Mag, RHINO and Comstock Review, among others. She is a reader for Lily Poetry Review. Marge Piercy honored Anastasia’s poetry with honorable mention in the 2020 Joe Gouveia Outermost Poetry Contest. Anastasia is fluent in three languages, and is a long-distance cyclist.