This poem was passed along by a friend from long ago: Sarah McManus Bickle. Her first email did not say who wrote it. When I inquired, i found out she did! Sarah is an ESL teacher at Jasper High School in Dallas, Texas.
Great work, Sarah!
How Black Bean Tacos Saved My Life
In the beginning there was Seven Meat Gumbo,
a thick mess of something my cousins had brought home
-my big cousins with their guns, Coors hats, and waders –
I don’t remember how it tasted, but it was the pageantry,
the story-telling men and the bread-baking women
all laughing in the kitchen,
the delicious chaos that impressed me the most.
Next, I guess, was Christmas fudge,
a more orderly endeavor wherein Grandma was commandant.
Glasses perched low, she directed us:
Grandpa and Dad cracked (and ate) the pecans,
Mom kept the baby, and I studiously stirred and licked my fingers.
Then came the nineties, and the suburbs,
and it was grilled chicken and rice for the entire decade,
punctuation coming in form of canned green beans, peas,
perhaps a green salad.
It was a sad time.
In college, I wasted away on a diet of
soft serve ice cream and tuna fish sandwiches
until I could bear it no longer.
I ventured into our low-rent neighborhood’s corner grocery store,
where women with long black braids carried fat babies from aisle to aisle.
I followed them, watching their actions like Columbus’s men
must have watched the Tainos, incredulous that the Indians
survived the suspicious tomato.
I went home with cilantro, jalapenos, cumin, black beans, limes,
and a dollar fifty dozen of fresh tortillas.
My kitchen sang. Ancient aunts, country cousins, and my grandmother
rose up in the steam from my skillet, though their accents had changed a bit.
So in this way a talent came to me like sourdough starter or live coals,
the gift of nourishment. Fat roots reached up from the kitchen floor to claim me.
Here’s to being claimed in the kitchen.