Grandma put raisins in her meatballs and made sauce from scratch and spooned it over rigatones and spagett’ and sprinkled lots of parmejan’. She poured us tumblers of ginger ale and served us cookies on a plate. She wore house dresses and smocks and slacks but never dungarees (like those of her brothers working in the onion fields, covered in muddy dirt, washed by hand by her the only daughter). Her favorite color was “lilac” and in the yard she planted violets and portulaca and there was a willow tree we weren’t supposed to climb and a cherry tree and wild strawberries and Grandpa’s vegetable garden. They called the little front room of the house “the parlor” and it’s where the family portraits hung and where the record player sometimes sang opera and where they put up the Christmas tree with a five-dollar bill for each grandchild tucked between the branches. In the hallway was the Infant of Prague (a baby doll we couldn’t play with) wearing a crown and robe, with strings of fat wooden rosary beads. There was a kitchen upstairs and a second kitchen down in the basement where Grandpa had his bar and his pool table and the walls were covered by mirrors, magazine clippings, plastic flowers, deflated balloons and other kitschy knick-knacks, bric-a-brac and pictures of Grandpa from his umpire days and an autographed photo of boxer Rocky Marciano. At holidays all us cousins sat on folding chairs at the kids’ table next to the adults at the long table covered in oilcloth with Grandpa at the head and a big bottle of Gallo chianti. After dinner the women washed and dried dishes while the men played cards, the air filled with cigarette smoke and stories and gossip and dirty jokes and arguments (and sometimes my father crept away alone upstairs to his old bedroom to escape the noise). Grandpa toasted cent’ ann’ and he teased I’ll give ya a buffatone and he told me I love you more than you love me and when I tried saying it back in my college Italian he didn’t understand and smiled, perplexed. Years later I finally understood the meaning of those words heard in my childhood:
Lisa DeSiro is the author of Labor (Nixes Mate, 2018) and Grief Dreams (White Knuckle Press, 2017). Her poems have been published in various anthologies and journals, and have been set to music by several composers. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University. She works for a non-profit organization and is an assistant editor for Indolent Books. Read more about her at thepoetpianist.com.