Secret Sauce by Deirdre Fagan

I hadn’t become much of a cook yet—
I had only lived, or half-lived, with a few boyfriends,
trying out Shake-n-Bake and pre-packaged jambalaya,
stirring the pot on sofas, kneading love on countertops.

I was home from college, visiting for Christmas,
thinking long term — I wanted to know how to make your
homemade sauce, how you learned to love again after my father
cheated on you and left.

I jotted down ingredients on frayed notebook paper.

As we talked about love and sex, I grabbed my stepfather’s
bingo marker and stamped circles all over the pages,
counting my lovers and wondering,
Were my two fathers really the only two men you’d ever slept with?

You died almost 25 years ago,
but I make your sauce and still taste your love
and wonder what you’d tell me now, if you could know.

Four marriages and two children later,
those torn sheets are in my recipe book—
the paper yellowing a little more each year.

I’m still carrying the secrets I could never tell you,
but I’ve doled them out like recipes to lovers,
a single ingredient at a time.

Last year, risking all, I gave your recipe as holiday gifts.

This year, your granddaughter you never met,
when asked to contribute her favorite recipe to a school cookbook,
picked “Mom’s Spaghetti Sauce,” believing it mine.

When I wrote the recipe on crisp new paper,
I pictured you—young, tucking a wisp of auburn hair
behind your ear, deftly fingering a cigarette in one hand,
and stirring the pot with the other, and I smiled,

and hoped if I could tell you now, you would no longer let me leave
because I’ll never understand why you let me go.

# # #

Deirdre Fagan is a widow, wife, and mother of two who has published poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Most recently, her work has appeared in Amaryllis, Eunoia Review, Every Day Fiction, New Verse News, and The Opiate. She is also the author to Critical Companion to Robert Frost and has published a number of critical essays. Fagan teaches literature and writing at Ferris State University where she is also the Coordinator of Creative Writing. Meet her at

Photo:  Manfred Richter


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