Tuesday, April 8, 2014

love and prayers.

i awoke at 3:30-something this morning to what sounded like the front door opening. at 3:37, my curiosity prompted me to venture into the living room. only my brother, night creature, would come in at this hour. it wasn't him. wasn't anyone. an imposter sound from an unknown source.

or my grandmother's spirit coming through? 

she had died only an hour earlier. 

dad came home less than an hour ago and told me, his eyes slightly pink around the edges. at first it was if someone was telling me i didn't get the job. it felt familiar. for a minute. 

nanni had come down with MRSA and was in isolation at the nursing home. i wanted to visit her again when she was well. she'd come through this like she'd come through every other time. except this time, she beat me to the door. 

when i lived in memphis, nanni told my dad she hoped i'd write about her. so i did. it was a poem that took years to finish, because i could never get it quite right. all along the way i kept thinking i have to finish this before she leaves us. and i did. i emailed it to my dad, who took a copy to her at the nursing home. she was so proud. i wish i had been there to see him read it to her. 

it was originally titled "church pew," because i spent many saturday nights with nanni followed by 11 o'clock mass on sunday. but today, as images and words from a lifetime with nanni were projected onto the black screen in my head, a more fitting title came to rest at the top of the page. i could see her pointy handwriting as clearly as if it were right before my eyes: love and prayers, nanni. that's how she closed every letter she wrote me.

Love and Prayers

I left crumbs on the slick oak bench –
offerings of irreverence,
outshone by her
gold-embossed hallelujahs and peace be with yous.

She lived with her sister,
my great aunt with a pageboy haircut
and a wardrobe of stiff polyester pastels.

The morning prior, I passed by bowls of anise-speckled
dough in a darkened room off the kitchen;
today she will bake it in braided
mini-loaves of moo-cha-la-ta
done the old Italian way:
wrapped around one boiled egg.

I crept around creeping tomato vines in the tiny garden
behind their narrow white house,
mostly nondescript
were it not for
fistfights and country western spilling from
the red brick beer garden next door—

Except on Sundays, for even drunkards know respect.

In her 50s-era kitchen awaited
poached eggs and palm-sized pancakes,
sugary chamomile tea
(pronounced gaga-me-la by any
good Italian),
and one tiny, thick-browed girl tap, tap, tapping
her fork against a coral melamine plate.

Upstairs her bed wore a rosary on its left post,
and she a blouse
pressed and perfumed, tucked and belted,
precise as the second hand
on her gold quartz watch.

I watched as she dressed
her bare arms, belly, legs.
Skin like gathered satin
colored in buttermilk,
laid over a map of blue veins.

And how she dressed me in my favorite twirly dress
In icing ruffles of yellow and white,
finished in glossy black Mary Janes.

She carried a pocketbook,
with a clear plastic headscarf folded neatly
in the middle compartment –
for you never know about rain.

I left crumbs in the church pew
That Sunday.
And many more.
She never told a soul,
my secret-keeper, my oldest friend.

Grandmother Mary.

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