LETTER TO MY MOTHER ON HER SAINT'S DAY, DURING A PANDEMIC, THE THIRD YEAR AFTER HER DEATH

Richard Parisio

Dear Josephine,

 

I should be getting ready to make our dish

of pasta con sarde: fat strands of bucatini

tossed with wisps of fennel, currants and pine nuts, olive oil, sardines.

 

Your children and grandchildren had all planned

to share this meal and toast you and your saint.

But fear is boiling over and to shop

for those few things seems risky as crossing the sea

in the cramped hold of a ship as your parents did

a century ago. So I only have the breadcrumbs

ready to toast and sprinkle on the dish

to conjure sawdust and the carpenter, St. Joseph.

 

None of us were devout in the usual sense.

But we practiced this strange sacrament

of eating every year. Food shared like that

must have been our true religion. I don’t know

how to tell you just how strange

the world is now. Alzheimer’s fogs

turned you into a foreigner years before you died.

Your forgetting began in the kitchen. Little things,

no salt in the pasta water, or too much.

 

It’s been so long since we were able to talk.

Words slip like spaghetti that keeps sliding 

off my fork. Words can’t feed us but are all

we are allowed, now touch is quarantined.

Do you remember

how you helped me learn by heart some lines

from Leaves of Grass? I recited them for the class

in third grade: Every atom belonging to me

as good belongs to you …

I want to recover

some of your atoms now, invisible and indivisible

breadcrumbs to top off this astral feast

of St. Joseph. As a child I loved

to knead and knead the slack skin of your hands

at the table, dunking biscuits in coffee and milk,

communion for two lapsed Catholics. Whitman again:

Here are biscuits to eat and here is milk to drink

But as soon as you sleep and renew yourself in sweet

clothes I will certainly kiss you with my goodbye kiss

and open the gate for your egress hence.

 

I don’t know how to stamp or address this letter,

mother. Or even how to end it. St. Joseph’s Day

this year is also the first day of spring as the whistle

of a gray bird on this drab day tells me

tell me to believe.

PROCESS

Richard Parisio

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