Friday, April 08, 2011

A canción in a fugue

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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.

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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


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My Maternal Grandmother, Fidela Arroyo

3 Comments:

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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