by Sheryl St. Germain | Cooking with ghosts.



As dream you enter me: zombie-like, your eyes gone. We cannot talk, I say, you’re dead. I wake, sick. This is not what I wanted, just another version of the nightmares I’ve had for years of you lost, stolen, flattened, stabbed, beheaded, gone.


I’m making puttanesca for the first time since you died. The scent of garlic and anchovies simmering in olive oil barely registers, the tomatoes, the crushed peppers, the sauce bubbling away, a sauce we both loved. It’s the one dish whose recipe you asked for, the one you taught your girlfriend to cook. He was always so worried about the garlic, she said at your service, that he would sauté it too long, and it would brown and taste funny. I cut up black olives, chop parsley, grate cheese, spoon out a heap of capers to add to the sauce. The pasta water is boiling. I’m thinking of nothing but the next step in the construction of the dish, but as I stir the sauce, and the aroma envelopes me more intensely, I feel something like you for the first time since you died. It’s like you’re physically right next to me. I’m not expecting it, so at first I don’t pay close attention.

Mom, you say, I’m sorry.

I pour the penne into the boiling water.

I’m sorry, you say again, though it’s less a saying than a breath of something that’s entering the edge of my consciousness. I ignore you, because you can’t be speaking. You’re dead. I give the pasta a quick stir before turning down the heat.

Again, more insistent, I’m sorry, sorry.

I’m stirring the pasta, but starting to feel your presence. Now you’re pushing yourself into me, notice me, you seem to be saying, but it’s hard to concentrate on noticing something I don’t know how to acknowledge. I’m still too full of your death to hear, too focused on the food I’m cooking—yes, it’s a recipe you loved, but I also remember you vomiting it up during the night once, me having to clean it up from you, your T-shirt, the bedsheets, your shoes, the carpet. I’m remembering how years later you told me you’d searched the house for alcohol that night, drank it all after I’d gone to bed. You must have been eighteen. I love you, I miss you, but I’m so angry at you.

I’m sorry, I’m sorry, the presence, the ghost, the thing that is you and not you says and does not say, so pressing, so urgent I have to say, finally, despite myself, out loud, to the puttanesca-scented air, I hear you.

Sheryl St. Germain is a poet, essayist, and fiber artist. She resides in Savannah, Georgia, where she writes and makes fiber art. More at

This essay first appeared in Sheryl’s memoir 50 Miles (Etruscan Press, 2020).

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