This is a poem I wrote in college, 1978 or 1979.
Paring knife in hand
she trims the tough outer bracts,
peels woodiness from the stem.
I slice the top third off.
Her thumb plumbs the center,
pries the fleshy leaves apart.
Grandma’s hands apprentice mine:
lacking the tongue and time
of my ancestors, I learn their food.
Pasquale Porazzo sits:
pear-shaped, propped with a cane.
His nine children pose behind him.
Grandma is third from the left.
Many of them now dead,
their memories of his memories
punctuated with gravestones.
Grandma pulls a leaf back,
tucks a pinch of crumbs in.
This my inheritance:
to savor, to labor
for what is fleeting.
Josephine Porazzo LaFemina died yesterday, 98 years, 4 months, and 23 days old. She profoundly influenced my idea of what a garden should be. Long after she had any garden of her own, she gave me lily seeds, more confident than I was that I could grow them. I probably wouldn’t have even tried, except that in every letter, in every phone call, she wanted to know how the garden was doing. As my brother so aptly put it, “A lot of her is in me, and for that I am thankful. Those years of my young life when every Sunday she welcomed me and fed me are the foundation of my experience of family. Those meals are the meals against which all others are measured. I loved her and I will continue to miss her for a long, long time.”