Like having 2 lovers
To take care of
Do not bruise
But remain soft
And always salt
Salt for flavor
When you mash it
together with mortar
and pestle that was
You mix a spell of
a witch that never burned.
Sunday with Sinatra
Sammy, you look thin. Here, eat something. My grandmother is convinced that I am perpetually underfed and require copious amounts of pasta. Laughing, I walk over to the stove where my nose is instantly tickled by garlic sauteing in preparation for making gravy. Gravy, not sauce.
She sings along to the record player blasting from the tea cart in the corner of the kitchen. One. two. three. She deftly pours fresh crushed tomatoes and red pepper flakes into the worn pot. Frank Sinatra is crooning about some lover. My grandmother pauses, stirring—sashays about the kitchen—belts out the lyrics completely off-key. It’s my cooking music, she says.
The gas flames hit the acidic tomatoes and hot pepper, slightly stinging the back of my throat. It’s going to be spicy. I pass her numerous herbs while the red pot begins to bubble. The aroma of sweet basil and grassy oregano infuses the air—the kitchen smells like we’re going to feed a bunch of Italian mobsters. My grandma would stick it to them. Ha.
I open the fridge, and suddenly I’m transported: butcher’s counter.
A cloud of raw meat wafts towards me. It stinks of fat and blood. My grandmother grabs the meat with her thick, not-so-feminine fingers, the same fingers I see when I look down at my hands, and plops them into the gravy.
Sausage seasoned with fennel seeds, savory brashal, and meatballs flecked with minced onions, homemade breadcrumbs soaked in milk. This will simmer on the stove all afternoon, diffusing flavorful meaty goodness to create her complex gravy. It can only be improved by the nutty parmesan…and a robust red wine she stowed away in the garage for our Sunday dinner. It’s tradition.
[while he is downstairs]
Double hearts like always being able to find room for dessert or take up all of the space your body was meant take It’s bath time full of thyme—she put the planter on top of the toilet seat—the steam and the skylight would be good for it //Bath thyme// drowning writer, poor mother (it had been a year for her) p u l l i n g away from them Sink in the bath water. Blast the music louder. Think of other lovers waterproof vibrator wind shaking the glass a tight wrist candle light pruned feet dripping onto parchment...it’s alright like I’ll always be dipping in, buying ribs and shrimp for delivery while I soak away writing poems in the tub about dead friends plants unwilling to grow mothers alcoholic brothers old pen pal authors the sigh that comes with pulling the drain.
I love food. Most of the time, I am thinking about my next meal. And when I eat that meal, I am already planning for what I will eat after that. I grew up cooking- my short stubby legs atop the kitchen chair scooched close to the counter. Whether I was helping my mother roll meatballs or mince garlic with a real knife (despite my age), I loved cooking. Feeding people and eating were my two main joys. Fast forward years later, and my voracious appetite extended into the library. I read anything I could get my hands on, and as a result, I started writing. It only makes sense that food colors my words- it is always there in the background of my mind like a plum waiting to ripen. Certain flavors evoke certain feelings and memories that words simply cannot capture. Read a page, have a slice, why don’t you?
Samantha Vargas is a poet who lives in Jersey City, New Jersey with her beloved partner and pitbull. She received her MA in English Education and her BA in English Literature from Rutgers University. Currently, she teaches high school Language Arts at an Academy for Performing Arts. She was previously published in The Knight’s Library magazine for her poem, “multi-love.”