The church gave him Maria to visit, a white-haired plump
Little Italian-born lady who before Sunday Mass began
Happily stepped down the aisle to her seat, stopping left and right
To greet end-of-pew parishioners she knew and liked.
Everyone adored Maria, whose husband had died fifteen years ago
Leaving her a large home and a remarkably fine rose garden
She was sad not to be able to work in any more.
When the much younger visitor from the program
First came to call, chuckling Maria reached for the brandy to pour —
Only one for her but a possible second for him –
Into little green glasses to raise in a “Salut!”
Then, what stories Maria told of growing up in Sicily, on a farm,
And being courted by her lover who found ways
To outwit two serious rivals! Laughing details Maria recalled
Made the afternoon like attending a verismo opera
Once, friendly visitor invited Maria and her unmarried daughter
For lunch. With little skill and much enjoyment he prepared
Spaghetti and meatballs, placing jelly-jar glasses and a Gallo gallon
On a back yard table, later sharing Mario Lanza’s Neapolitan folksongs
On a thrift-store phonograph, to Maria’s great pleasure and her daughter’s.
From the year of their visits, he would remember two things:
How, showing him her rose garden, with no context to support it
Maria from the unlipsticked mouth of her apple-cheeked face
Spoke the words “Don’t ever get old.” He was shocked.
What did she mean by that? How helpful was the advice?
Now he wondered: did Maria
Alone all day in her beloved home, no longer with many visitors,
Cry herself to sleep at night? He had thought her more secure,
With her belief in God.
Did she imagine there is much choice about getting old, for any of us?
Then Maria presented him with store-bought cookies
Arranged on a flowered plate, proceeding as though what he heard
Had never been said. Happily they met for several months more.
His second memory: Maria suffering her stroke and its
Sister strokes, moved into a hospice where she parted from her mind.