Hungry

06/11/2012

I’ve been trying for a few weeks to write about alienation from my father/his family, comfort food, and my own nostalgic longings, with only some luck. Fathers’ day is coming up, I guess? So I hear. I guess it makes sense that this feeling has been growing as it approaches.

It’s troublingly easy for outsiders to essentialize cutlures down to their food and language, but food and language was what I got of our family’s Mexican roots, along with a complex history of colonialism/assimilation and a darker complexion than my Mormon cousins, who stared at us at family reunions like we were aliens for not sharing their Wonder Bread pigmention, cornsilk hair* and blue-gray eyes. There was no question of whose offspring we were, everybody knew the story of our pariah arm of the family. “[My grandfather] went on his mission and came back with a señorita!” (Little pitchers have big ears, yo.)

This year for my birthday (in a few weeks) I think I just want to eat spicy food, cry, practice my Spanish while struggling not to be embarrassed, and tell stories. We’ll see how that works out.

Draft below, definitely not the last–this one needs to stew for a few before I can pick it up again, I think. Needs more prose on the process of nixtamalization, for sure. So fascinating, and such a useful metaphor!

Nixtamal: Spoon of the Comfort Eater

i have a confession to make:
even while food fanatics seek to reform its production and consumption
there is nothing that makes me happier
than the smell of corn.
not that corn that comes in a can or half-mildewed ears from the supermarket,
not even the sweet kernels encased in ice that we put on black eyes and bruises as kids
but those kernels that have been reborn better thru nixtamilization.
ground for maisena, tortillas de maise, tamales–or left whole for posole and menudo.
sometimes hominy just sounds like a bad pun for home.
today as my posole simmers on the stove,
i call up your voice, tia, and i miss you.
i must have been 7 or 8 the year we visited you in Alaska,
everything outside your door dazzling and snowbound,
i could have made snow angels until my fingers froze off.
“posole,” you explained the aroma simmering over your kitchen, and rationed me a bowl.
although as a Mormon, you’ve probably never been hungover,
you advised me that i would eat posole someday when i was,
that it would cauterize colds, broken hearts, and hangovers.
i tucked your advice down in the suitcase when we left, next to the other gifts,
but it wasn’t until my 20s that i found it–
heartsick, sad, and lonely, that winter my makeshift family broke open again
only to reveal that no one is safe enough to ever be counted upon.
in my bag, like any runaway, i still had my spoon.
outside the taqueria in the rain, i felt silly hesitating,
i could not bring myself to step inside those heated walls.
my face swollen with sobbing and sickness,
i thought of the steaming dish you set before me those years ago,
and i went in.
i could speak no spanish as i ordered, tho i asked as politely as mama had taught me for a bowl
and sat down salivating, waiting for my number to be called.
i still get tripped up on pronunciation and grammar, too embarrassed to speak
words lost in the fire that destroyed what bound us together
for what feels like a lifetime, and a lifetime ago–
until i am alone, reading Neruda aloud to myself because a language can sound like family,
and i am lonely sometimes.
my face drained sorrow in slick wet streams as i snuffled into my hanky between mouthfulls
glasses fogged up and eyes not dry–
i must have looked a fool to be so glad over a bowl of soup adorned with lime and cilantro
flavors alight in the dark tunnel of my glistening mouth.
but sometimes where the burning has been
becomes something more nourished
than was before.

-RD

*ironically, i guess? all the babies in our branch of the family tree are born with cornsilk white hair–but it falls out at ~10-18 months, and then grows darker and darker with every year, “like bodies shirking off colonization.”

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