When the stove wakes, garlic and ginger
chase it. This is how we cook
in my house. Start the stove, keep it
hot. What is fire if not beginning?
Rain sprinkles outside and ruins the holiday,
but we are fine. We’ve turned on
the stove. It’s the perfect weather to make
五更肠旺. Hot intestines and blood
to warm your insides. Clouds blanket the sun
that is normally gold. When it sets,
all the gold rushes west. It is time to plate
the dish. I clean up the spills
with a napkin, broad strokes, sweeping clean
across like Manifest Destiny.
The spice brings the fire into the food,
the chopsticks bring the food
to the mouth. Cool rain sprinkles outside.
When it does not rain today,
people launch fireworks. Fire guns. Bring
the fire into the sky
and the hotdogs to their mouths.
Red sauce, white bread, blue sky.
But today it rains. It sprinkles. We sprinkle
too. Sprinkle cilantro, sprinkle sesame,
sprinkle sprinkles. We garnish this land
that is stolen and too much. Gluttony
leaves us with plastic. Throw plastic in the gutter,
gut the fish, fish for promise in the endless
fields of corn and soy. When it does not rain today,
people build fires so high they singe
my eyebrows. They cook, and I swim
in this melting pot of America.
A one-pot dish that promises to be
a one-way ticket to success
because fullness is fulfillment. The only shared
language is hunger. Sugar’s never tasted more
sweet. We can prove this in a lab. We bottle
history like green juice, more spirulina
than spine or backbone—we pick out the bones
we can’t swallow. Do you
want boneless chicken nuggets or legs
or wings? We have it. We can
fry it too. Hot oil can jump higher than fire.
Everything is processed except for
our memory. When it does not rain today,
people flood streets. Red, white,
and blue. Stores sell so many hotdogs, the empty
shelves more full than our memory
of ourselves. What is fire if not a reminder
of how stories begin?
The Mandarin words for fire and for being alive
are homophonous. For a country that burns through
its resources and people, we’ve done a good job
at staying alive. We have a good immune system.
For my immunity, my mom used to make me drink
yogurt every morning. I drank the 酸奶 but really wanted
the sweet yogurt that was dyed pink and came in plastic
tubes that cut the edges of my mouth. The yogurt
America drinks does not have the sour, the 酸,
that I know. Instead, America drinks cultures
loudly and celebrates its birthday even louder. I memorized
July 4th, 1776 before I memorized my mom’s birthday.
Anything for this country only several centuries old—
never mind that we eat thousand-year-old eggs
for breakfast. America would rather have us
preserve eggs than our memories of somewhere else.
Home is where the stomach is. Comida comienza. My favorite Tex-Mex
restaurant has papel picado hanging year-round, not just for special
occasions. A meal is a special occasion. Especially a Texas-sized one
that will fuel you for days. Each dish is served on a hot plate
and tricks you into eating more. Go ahead and loosen the belt
now. The only break you’ll get comes later. Don’t we all know
that promise? Of yet and soon and later. When my grandparents
came to America, they weren’t successful yet. But would be sooner,
later. After the hard work. After endurance. After the fire
burned and stayed burning long enough for me to also learn
to cook. Recipes passed on and burning in my mind like
marshmallows. Like s’mores, like some more
memories that food triggers in my grandpa. Home is where
the stomach is. It’s generational, how each struggle
becomes. Every fight is seasoning. When I cry, salt peppers
my cheek. With two tongues, I tell my grandpa about the fires
stacked high. Teach him how to make s’mores, despite singed
eyebrows. The only shared language is food. He marvels at
this wondrous land where we drink red soup, eat white rice,
where we arrived after crossing the great blue. He marvels at
more. How we sing America the Beautiful, how even the people
under fire learn to sing.