Friday, April 08, 2011

A canción in a fugue


My Grandmother In Her Kitchen
Forty Years On

My grandmother is in her kitchen. She’s pressing
handmade corn tortillas. She’s crushing fresh-picked
chilies in a granite mortar. She’s alive. The stone
pestle makes a tectonic sound. She looks like my
mother looks now. Her attention leaves room for me
as she looks up and smiles. I can describe the kitchen,
but which one? She had so many in those young days.
I was sure she was part Gypsy, roaming the small tight
worlds of East Los Angeles, each house an adventure
in redecoration. Four or five times before I was twelve.
I suddenly realize where my truck-loading skills were honed.


So I pick a kitchen on Indiana Street. Split-curtained window
over the sink, ordinary drawers and cabinets, tile-top counter,
white and mint green squares hand-set, made to fit. I trace
my fingers along the many junctions skating an index
in grout canals. Glass jars with strange powders, Mexican
spices whose purposes I cannot guess at. She turns a tortilla,
throws it hot atop others into a small straw basket lined with
a white cloth, and replaces the woven top. Everything is
magnified by eggs frying in a black iron skillet, tempered
by the release of crushed red chilies that I elect no part of.

I’m only eight or so and my palate hasn’t quite warmed
to such things yet. A half-tube of red chorizo lies
wounded on a cutting board. She spins around and lops
off a piece mixing it in with a small wooden spoon.
She turns again to add water and fresh-diced onions
and tomatoes to the mortared chilies. Miraculously,
Wonder Bread is toasting in two slots transforming to
a divine char. Grandfather is wise enough to remain in
the nook where just now, I notice him. He has a cup in
his hand and a spoon lies on the curve-cornered table
still wet from the instant Nescafè he stirred in. A reign
of brooking bacon rules heavy this province of kitchen.

Grandmother is moving in a slow fury now, part still-
life, part hummingbird wing. She is conducting. She
is magnificent. All melodies find their singular thread
to weave a single canción in a fugue of breakfast.
Plates appear in a vision of ceramic virgins amid
shimmering flatware and glasses of blood-orange juice.
I hear torero music in my mouth. My belly is smiling.

Joseph Gallo
September 28, 2010

My Maternal Grandmother, Fidela Arroyo


Blogger Cathie parried...

My mouth is watering for those chorizo eggs! What a beautiful woman your grandmother was. What was her name?

April 08, 2011 11:04 PM  
Blogger Joseph Gallo parried...

Thanks for asking, Cathie. I meant to place her name beneath her photo, which I now have done.

And they make a killer chorizo from soy . . . available at Trader Joe's. ;-)

April 08, 2011 11:13 PM  
Blogger Jan parried...

Awww that is such a sweet and endearing piece...wonderfully done! And you have her eyes ;o)

April 09, 2011 9:01 PM  

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