by Gail Thomas
There must be a hunger potion in this food,
says the child of my child as she eats
another plate of meatballs, a riff
on my Italian mother who charmed
my German father with a few peasant dishes
learned from her mother
who never finished school, but wearing
a sauce-stained apron spun out
pizzas dripping with mozzarella and salami,
savory rounds of locatelli-crusted bread,
and capeletti floating like lilies in broth.
No recipe in sight, my grandmother
kneaded and rolled out dough,
filled tiny pillows with meat, spinach,
and cheese, draped pale noodle strips over
the backs of chairs, while sauce bubbled
in a copper-bottomed cauldron for hours.
And though Mother vowed to be modern
with recipes clipped from ladies’ magazines
to test on her pinochle crowd, the old dishes
bewitched us. Redolent of garlic, onions, marjoram,
basil sweating in butter, the brew simmered
on Saturday as we stood in line for confession,
our reward served after Sunday Mass.
When grandmother went blind from diabetes,
my mother policed all sweets until years later
her mind was irreversibly tangled.
She forgot the salt, collected twist-ties,
peppered the kitchen with yellow Post-its
scrawled with jumbled letters.
Like an intoxicated lover she
craved sugar, jammed the freezer
with Rocky Road and Vanilla Fudge,
stashed Snickers in drawers.
Lunch and dinner meaningless, she
served chocolate and caramel elixirs
until she was lost.
I imagine her at this table, set
with the pink-flowered plates I claimed,
as great-grandchildren pronounce
the meatballs magical. And next to her
her mother’s flour-dusted hands
gesture a sign for forgiveness—
* * * * *
"Alchemy" is from the author's collection Odd Mercy.
Gail Thomas, http://www.gailthomaspoet.com/, has published four books of poetry, Odd Mercy (Headmistress Press, 2016), Waving Back (Turning Point, 2015), No Simple Wilderness: An Elegy for Swift River Valley (Haley’s, 2001) and Finding the Bear (Perugia Press, 1997).
Waving Back was named a Must Read for 2016 by the Massachusetts Center for the Book and Honorable Mention in the New England Book Festival. Odd Mercy won the Charlotte Mew Prize of Headmistress Press and its “Little Mommy Sonnets” won Honorable Mention in the Tom Howard/ Margaret Prize for Traditional Verse.
Thomas’s work has appeared in many journals and anthologies including The Beloit Poetry Journal, Calyx, The North American Review, Hanging Loose, and Valparaiso Poetry Review. Individual poems have won national prizes and Thomas was awarded residencies at The McDowell Colony and Ucross.
Her book, No Simple Wilderness, about the creation of the Quabbin Reservoir in the 1930’s has been taught in college writing and interdisciplinary courses. As one of the original teaching artists for the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Elder Arts Initiative, Thomas led workshops and collaborated with dancers, musicians and storytellers in schools, nursing homes, hospitals and libraries across the state.
She speaks at conferences and poetry festivals, reads her work widely in community and academic settings, and lives in Northampton, MA.