An honorable human relationship — that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word “love” — is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.
A friend of mine went to a conference in New York City a few weeks back, where she saw the poet, Maria Mazziotti Gillan. When she returned, she had thoughtfully brought me back a copy of Gillan’s latest collection, Ancestors’ Song, with a lovely note on the title page (which I didn’t discover until I had read most of it two or three times.)
The poems are powerful. They are heart-wrenching and thought provoking and memory inducing.
Anyway, I thought I would share one with you. (I hope that Ms. Gillan does not mind.)
Even if you claim not to like poetry, read this one anyway. It is not a thanksgiving day poem, but a poem about mothers and food and abundance and unspoken love, things that are often intertwined during this holiday which so heavily focuses on the kitchen and table.
Conjuring Up My Mother
Why this morning, twenty years after my mother died,
do I conjure her up in her basement kitchen, clear
as if I had seen her yesterday? Watch her lift the roasting
pan out of the oven, the chicken browned and sizzling,
the oven-roasted potatoes, sliced and quartered, brown
and gold. Watch her pull out the stuffed artichokes, dark
green leaves holding homemade breadcrumbs that have formed
a crust while the artichokes cooked. She places the food carefully
as an artist on serving platters in the basement dining room
where 16 of us sit around three tables placed end to end
to form a long row. The chicken and artichokes are the third
course she has served this Sunday, as she does each Sunday, her
children and grandchildren laughing and talking, take for granted
the aroma of tomato sauce and homemade ravioli, meatballs, bowls
of olives and walnuts, huge salads from her garden, the entire meal
ending with her special lemon cake and bowls of fruit and cookies
and espresso. Such bounty presented to us each week as though it
would go on forever, my mother happy to be cooking for hours before
we arrived from our morning coffee and NYTimes and sleeping in, happy
to see us all together at her table, the way we came to believe we deserved
to be served, came to believe she would always be there. Even now, I imagine
I can see the crispy skin of that chicken, long since eaten, the crusty potatoes,
the artichoke leaves, the bread stuffing, that I could drive to her house
and she’d be waiting for me, and not as I do now, each day, all the voices
that surrounded me vanished, only this memory to comfort me in my empty
house where too often, I eat alone.
“Conjuring Up My Mother,” by Maria Mazziotti Gillan. In Ancestors’ Song, Bordighera Press, 2013.