(a traditional Italian sweet)

In the weeks before my father's death,
I make strufoli for him not knowing
he will enter the hospital Christmas Eve,
not knowing he will never leave that high
and narrow bed. There are piles of presents
yet to be wrapped red or green,
stacks of glossy cards to write, my work
abandoned until the new year,
and I'm at the counter, kneading dough,
heating olive oil until it spits.
A small blue flame of resentment burns.
I’m in the last half of my life. The poems
I haven't written are waiting outside
the snowy window. But I'm in the kitchen,
rolling dough into fat snakes, then thin
pencils. With the sharpest knife, I cut them
into one inch bits—a slice for the prom dress
he refused to buy, the perfect one, in shell pink
satin; a chop for the college education
he didn't save for, She’s just a girl, She’ll
get married, Who does she think she is?
a stab
for the slap when I tried to learn Italian
from his mother, my grandmother, whose recipe
this is. The small pieces hiss in the bubbling
grease. They change into balls of gold. I drain
them on layers of paper towels. I don’t know
I will never make them again, never mix
in the roasted almonds, pour warm honey
over the whole pile, sprinkle Hundreds
of Thousands, those tiny colored candies,
over the top. I only know the way my shoulders
ache, the weariness as I do the great juggle,
family, house, and work, trying to keep
all the balls in the air. And when his stubborn
breathing finally stops, when his heart gives out
at last, I only remember love as something simple
and sweet, a kiss of honey on the tongue. I take
this strufoli, that no one else will eat,
and spread it on the snow for the starlings
and the crows.
~Barbara Crooker

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