My Mother's Spices

By Margo LaGattuta

Cooking in my mother’s kitchen,
now that she’s gone, gives me
an odd feeling. Sprinkling cardamom
and sweet basil into the chili,
I think of when she last used these
to spice up a beef stew. What
was she thinking as she poured
marjoram and Mrs. Dash onto
her lamb chops? I wonder—
and notice how paprika
sticks until I tap it on the edge
of the counter. Nutmeg loosens like

memory and pours out full
and rich. Mother was shy
with spices sometimes, Don’t
use too much! she’d call to me
while I was joyously seasoning
meatloaf with rosemary leaves.
Don’t make it too hot, she’d
remind me as I minced a garlic clove
or cut an onion with tears in my eyes.

She liked to live carefully, thought
I was a hooligan the way I went
wild sometimes with peppercorns.
Even her dying was careful and slow.
My mother wanted to do it right,
and she lay there for weeks
in Charlevoix hospital after her last stroke.

Always take your time, she once told me.
You’ll want to get the seasoning just right.

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