An American invention, you won’t find it
in Italy, as my spouse and I read
in a cookbook my mother made
when I was a child.
Before the salt is in the water,
before the water comes to a boil,
before the penne is put in, you must
make the sauce, first and foremost,
according to the recipe.
“A cup of vodka and a can of tomato puree
will go a long way;” almost as far
as my mother and her family did
from Orsogna to Astoria, almost as far
as my mother-in-law and her family did
from Dublin to Los Alamos.
My spouse opens the can of puree.
I pour the vodka
into the bowl. We add most
of the remaining ingredients,
including an extra pinch of pepper, to taste,
as the recipe states.
My spouse’s phone rings.
I check mine. Low Battery.
I attach it to its cord and plug it into the wall:
a reverse of my birth,
when the obstetrician disconnected me
from my mother: the beginning of our estrangement,
which peaked by the time I began to shave.
It was only when she got sick
that I began to understand
that no amount of passion or anger
can uproot cancer
as if it were a tree flower, weed
or a family.
This and other recipes are the words
of our reconciliation. I have had to settle
for reading; for whisking my sadness away
in a bowl, and bringing it to a rolling boil
once it is in a pot. I have to wait
to add anything else to the sauce.
My mother in law is on speakerphone:
she and my spouse share a maniacal laugh.
I smile, and look at the pan of olive oil;
their laughter sizzles in slices of garlic, which releases
their pungent perfumes,
the scent of my mother’s most joyous self
ascending in my nose.