204th Street: lavoro ben fatto – Kate Falvey

There is nothing grandma wants more
than a little pace. She mutters in Italian
for Our Lady Madonna Mia to give her some

then sighs over the tagliatelle she cut that morning
from the flattened dough, yolk-tinged strips
floured and arranged on the coarse white cloth

she’s laid out on her tall bed so our supper
could stretch out and rest awhile before it gets
thrown along with grandma’s opera voice and salt

into the clunkity pot, before it gets dressed up
with grated cheese and gravy and before grandma
asks if it came good.

She half sings, half curses – and I sometimes can’t
tell if she’s glad or not that I am underfoot, watching
her nylons wrinkle as her knees knock against the stove

while I play with a macaroni cutter on the floor, cruising
it near her slipper like a teenager’s wayward jalopy.
I wander to the bedroom where the noodles lounge,

some straight, some curled as if basking in the motes
from the alleyway sun. I visit the cats who slink and
kick up dust and mewly aggravation in that alley.

The visit is staring out the third-floor window
squeaked clean with white vinegar that morning.
I’m pretty sure the cats know I’m there and that I’m

on their side when Vinnie-Over-There throws water
and his big pazzo voice on them, even on the babies
who are small enough for two to nest in that broken

boot he flung at them last night. Shirts and aprons
are squabbling on the crisscrossed lines that intertwine
like windows and fire escapes playing cat’s cradle.

The gravy has been stewing and thickening for hours.
The pale walls glow with tomato and a hint of basil. They
are mostly the color of Pasqua taralli before the glaze of icing.

Grandma gives me a hunk of the palatone we bought
downstairs from Frankie Baker who is a cousin of
Frankie Shoe. I like Frankie Baker best because he

sneaks me a cracked crostoli or a flake of sfogliatelle.
Grandma lets me dip the bread into the sauce pot while
she watches so I don’t tip over the pot and ruin the meal

or my Sunday appetite or my church dress and this is the
best food I’ve ever eaten – better even than Frankie Baker’s
dolci, better than my mama’s tapioca pudding, and I tell

Grandma with my hungry eyes and too-fast swallowing –
before anyone else gets to sit down at the long white-clothed
pushed-together tables in the living room that, yes, yes,

her sauce came good.

Kate Falvey’s work has been published in many journals and anthologies, including previous issues of Deep Overstock; in a full-length collection, The Language of Little Girls (David Robert Books); and in two chapbooks, What the Sea Washes Up (Dancing Girl Press) and Morning Constitutional in Sunhat and Bolero (Green Fuse Poetic Arts). She co-founded (with Monique Ferrell) and for ten years edited the 2 Bridges Review, published through City Tech (City University of New York) where she teaches, and is an associate editor for the Bellevue Literary Review. As a young woman she worked in a slightly sketchy bookstore on Hollywood Boulevard, mostly because she liked to read on the job and try to match customers with their book choices.

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