Joan Leotta

Joan Leotta

Joan Leotta plays with words on page and stage. Her poems, articles, essays, and short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Ekphrastic Review, Pine Song, When Women Write, Verse Visual, Red Wolf Journal, anti-heroin chic, Drunk Monkeys, and others. She has been a Tupelo Press 30/30 author, and a Gilbert Chappell Fellow. Her chapbook, Languid Lusciousness with Lemon, is out from Finishing Line Press. She performs folk and personal tales featuring food, family, nature, and strong women.

Standing in the Shade in Aswan

It really is cooler in the shade
when there is no humidity.
As I waited in Aswan for my
daughter to return from the tour
I felt too sick to take, I approached
a group of long-robed, veiled women
standing by a wall, waiting for their rides.
Some wall remained for leaning,
but all the shade was taken.
I smiled at nearest woman as I
took my place beside her but in the sun.
I greeted her in Arabic.
Her hijab and robes
swirled about in purple loveliness;
she turned to her friends,
then back to me—smiling.
As one the line moved closer,
leaving me a small piece of shade.
“Shukran, shukran”
I directed my thanks
down the line—as I moved into tree’s shadow,
then, in companionable silence, with them,
until the buses came, mine and theirs.


Even the Pharaohs had to wait
for pita bread to puff,
depend on such as she to pull it out
before sweet brown spots
blackened into burn.

As I watch a violet clad woman
push a wooden paddle
holding several small mounds of dough
into a rounded brick and clay oven,

I think about these ancient royals,
chuckle and know that
in spite of their high station
and my lowly status as a tourist,
I will taste the pita warmer, fresher
than they likely ever did.

In just another minute
the royally clad young woman
pulls the wooden paddle from the oven
turns over into her the basket,
smiles, and invites us
to pull a puffed-up piece
of what was once dough,
and is now pita.
My fingertips tingle
as I take my pita.
Not waiting until we reach the table,
I pull my piece apart.
Inhale its aroma and break
off a taste.
O great pharaohs how, even
Across time, you likely envy me.

Two Cups of Coffee

We stopped for a cup of coffee
after crossing the Bosphorus back
into Europe.
Mother and I watched the café owner
pour thick sweet coffee
from an open copper pot (cezve),
into china liners set into matching
brass cup holders.
On retrieving our cups,
he peered into
the remaining swirled
muddy grounds
“I see a trip.”
We fulfilled his prophecy
on the ferry to ride back
to Isantbul’s European side.
We browsed
Bazaar trinkets,
wandered into
the workers’ café where we
lunched on lamb kabobs
at a communal tables with
students and stall salesmen.
One angry young man
pulled out a chair next to me.
He harangued,
“Americans do not like Turkey;
you do not appreciate our culture.”
I ordered coffee for the table.
“We love your land,” I responded.
My mother nodded, nervously.
We three then chatted back and forth,
across the Bosphorus of our
diverse lives, until his anger waned.
My mother smiled at him.
Upon leaving, I glanced at his empty cup
to scan the future
from his coffee grounds.
Too muddy to read.
I could only hope,
that as our hearts were now more open,
we left him, also with a softer heart.

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Poetry in this post: © Joan Leotta
Published with the permission of Joan Leotta