by Catherine Jagoe
EATING FOR THE DEAD
Great-Aunt Sara eats for her dead relatives.
Italian women of her age might choose
a more pedestrian form of grief--
weep at the funeral mass
wear black their whole lives long
light lines of candles in red plastic votives
leave them trembling in the murmuring penumbra
of some church, pay for novenas, cross their breasts
with lightning moves like master artists
fingers dipped in holy water by the door
take flowers to the graves each week
polish the garish stones.
Aunt Sara will have none of it.
She loves her host of dead through food,
through double helpings of
the dish that pleased each one the most.
For her son, the rich, sweet, sloe-black sauce
of squid-ink pasta.
For her dead man, the earthy flesh of olives, crunch of capers,
dark anchovy and salt red heat atop the limp soft strands
they used to pay the whores in, pasta
alla puttanesca. For her grandma, crackling sticky ginger rolls
of brandy-snaps, stuffed with pale ricotta laced with rum.
For Babbo, plates of starchy, melting, dimpled gnocchi
with their stabbing cloak of gorgonzola blue.
For her scented Mamma, now long gone, the wide-rimmed glass
of lemony Marsala-frothed zabaglione, served
with ladies’ fingers.
And when she tours the kitchen garden, she never fails
to pick a ripe tomato for the baby brother that she played with
on those same dust paths, remembers how he loved
the bitter green perfume of basil, flatter rounder one of sage.
She bites luxuriously and chews and savors each of them
pregnant with memories
her duty to her kin to eat for two.
Published in Kalliope, Volume XXIII, Number 1, 2001.