Poetry

The Flavors We Are

kitap

You smell it. Hot brown, African Frisco coffee mixed with sweetened condensed milk. It warms up the memory of your mom sitting by the window reading her Bible early in the morning. Proverbs. That’s where you find her. The sunlight glitters off dew drops on grass and then streams in the window making the tousled blonde curls in her hair glow and warming her like a heating blanket. There’s soft flute-like music playing in the background. You want to curl up beside her in this peace. You hesitate. You don’t want to interrupt her time with God. But you’re safe here. The world hasn’t started yet. You just want a piece of her heartbeat in the silence.

You hear it. A chainsaw grinding a tree into sawdust somewhere in the distance. It revs up an image of your dad, his big black beard catching woodchips. Eyes hidden behind dark sun-glasses. He smells like leaves and sawdust; like the trees bled life onto him. His strong defined legs look like tree trunks. The black hair guarding them is the bark. He is broad and big like an oak tree and you wish you could climb up into his branch-like arms just as easily. But there’s always the risk of falling or not being caught. He’s busy. There are such things as money trees. And each time he severs one down he grinds your breath away a little at a time. He doesn’t mean to. He’s doing his job. Providing. Protecting. But with each absence of him there is a new emptiness in your heart just like that new space in the sky. You know you can’t stay here. You admire his work ethic and strength but you don’t want to be cut down too.

You taste it. Onion, garlic, and oil boiled into white rice. It steams out of the lid on your pot and your mom says supper is almost ready. You know this flavor has traveled from Brazil to America to Africa and back through your mom’s recipe. She’s taught you to cook from scrambled eggs to grilled cheese and pickles to chocolate birthday cakes to Italian dressing chicken. The raw chicken breast was slimy and stunk and you didn’t want to touch it. You were afraid after cutting it you wouldn’t be able to eat it. But you did. And it was good. You’ve out mastered the master at cooking and now she wants you to cook for her. So you make her creamy Brazilian potato salad, the kind without nasty mustard; and you bake her chocolate cheesecake with Hershey’s and whipped cream; and you cook rice and black beans and broccoli and homemade cheese sauce. She’s taught you the essential lesson on being independent. You know how to survive. You know how to cook. You know how to eat. Now, you tell her supper is ready.

You see it. The white ford truck with wood panels stuck on the sides of the bed. Rust eats at the arches just above the tires. This was the first truck your dad taught you to drive in. He took the time to. He trusted you. Remember that time when you almost turned into a tree? You were driving him home from Grandma’s house on the back roads. There were fields where corn used to grow; empty plots of ground that were now filled with suburb-like houses. Country music played on the radio. Your dad’s favorite. You started to turn right but overturned and headed toward three tall trees standing in a row. You were headed toward the middle one. Suddenly, your dad yelled really loud at you so that you wanted to cry. “What do you think you’re doing?! What are you thinking?!” But in your mind you heard “You are such a failure. Can’t you do anything right?” It wasn’t what he said, it was his tone. You were only doing what he had told you. You were already nervous around him and now he was watching every turn and speed you chose. He said he didn’t mean to yell. That he was scared too; that you had scared him. But you were always scared.

You feel it. The soft hug from your mom before you go to sleep. You can smell her Plumaria lotion and hear her heart gently code your nerves to calm down. You hug her like giraffe drinks water and you wish you could remember what it was like before she got shorter than you. But you know either way you are loved and filled back up from life emptying you. Her arms wrap around you encircling you in that peaceful stillness you need so bad. You don’t want her to let go. But you know she’s tired too. So you don’t steal anymore of her heartbeat. You feel a tension rise as you move towards your dad. His firm hug tells you he loves you when you don’t believe his actions. He’s still sawing into your breath smelling like woodchip. Your arms stretch around him trying to contain all of him like trying to wrap your arms around a tree too wide for you to climb. But that’s not your job. It’s his. And even though he is loud as a chainsaw and as protective as a densely wooded forest you know he will guard you through the night.

You smell it, hear it, taste it, see it, and feel it. All of it. They didn’t know how so much of them would make you. Neither did you. You’re a walking paradox. You hate getting up early but love the morning. You have your mom’s peace in your heart but hear your dad’s chainsaw in your mind. You want to rest but you have to work to prove you aren’t a failure. You clean and cook and go to work and school and church. You climb trees only they never end. And just like your dad you’re scared to fall because you can’t mess up. You might hit a tree. Even though you’re afraid of getting burnt in life’s oven you want to cook your own meals. You want to be strong like a hardwood. You’ll find your own breath of air and won’t cause destruction to get it. You’ll empty yourself to fill life with the oxygen that was chain sawed away. You won’t be absent. You will fill the sky with green leaves and birds singing. You’ll cook peace in the sunshine and chainsaw away the roots of fear. You will leave a different flavor on the tongue of people’s minds. Because you aren’t your father. You aren’t your mother. You are only you.

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