Year One, First Friday of September
Songbird With Plums
Abuela is craving quail with plums.
Neither can be found in the fall.
She sends me to the freezer in the garage.
Under the masa & offal
is a sheet pan of six songbirds,
I ask Abuela how she caught them.
She cuts a cube of lard over a cast-iron pan.
Their music betrays them.
Out with the pits.
Off with the heads.
What about the bones? I ask.
What about the bones?
I crush cinnamon & cloves.
She flicks salt & rosewater,
humming something upbeat with an oom-pa-pa.
Then we let the heat & pressure do its work.
Time for a little break
Time for basketball.
Tall men. Short shorts.
Shawn Kemp. Rain Man.
She says licking her lips
with her thick accent.
so many insights
into her appetites.
The smell of meat & fruit fills the room.
Steam & juices hiss.
I crack open a dark beer for her
& ask if she wants to say grace.
She shakes her head.
When we're finished, we'll have to ask for forgiveness.
I’m left to imagine how she caught them.
Nets & traps, the spray
of birdshot into a flock,
raiding the nest,
stripping one tree
then the next.
It will be none of these things.
Years later, when I bring up the meal
of stone fruit & little birds its textures & sweetness
She will tell me when they sang, she listened.
Being present was the trick. Remembering an hour for you
is a day for them.
This is how you lure them in.
That is how you feed the hunger.
Grandma & my aunties don’t talk. But after Inés’ husband died in a bar fight—
machismo, broken bottle, femoral artery— she sighed & said: We’re obliged to feed the heartsick. Fill their gullet with mole. A white one like they do at weddings. Thick with pine nuts & sultanas. Orange blossoms. Put your heart in it. Ask about its day. Listen carefully. Do not try to speak over it. Do not try to one-up it. It has been here longer than you have ever been here. When it’s content & you’re content, bring a knife to a flame. Keep it steady. Ready? Break the skin. A drop of blood should be enough.
But, you know, go with your gut. Stir. Heat. Then let sit.
Ode to the Taco Bell in Breezewood, Pennsylvania
I don’t remember much about my time in Pennsylvania.
Except that it’s green the whole way through.
& they put fries on their salad.
& the tacos taste like shit. (Want the Mexicans to leave? This is what you get.) I was halfway between Pittsburgh & DC when I felt a ringing in my stomach.
Saw the white, violet & magenta lights bouncing off the waist-high snow in a truck-stop town. Heeding a call. It’s not what I was hungry for. We make do with what we have. But I will say this: PA winters are no match for a crunchwrap. Even now, when it’s cold, I think of the beans & cheese hugging me, cutting a swath through the permafrost
The crisp tortilla that if you close your eyes tastes something like love & makes your pent-up blood move like water,
melted crystal & floe & it’s spring for a minute just a minute but it’s enough. I look back & cringe when I think about when I had so much. A fourth meal when so many didn’t have one. It was worth embarrassing myself in front of the ancestors. (Forgive me, familia, I was hungry. Not the way you were hungry.
But hungry all the same.) They say you remember the first time.
I only remember the last. When my mind idles, I look it up on Google Maps. Same as the year before: Permanently closed, in red type. Saddest words ever written.
Vincent Antonio Rendoni (he / him / his) is a Seattle-based writer. He is a 2022 Jack Straw Poetry Fellow and the winner of Blue Earth Review’s 2021 Flash Fiction Contest. His book, A Grito Contest in the Afterlife, winner of the 2022 Catamaran Poetry Prize for West Coast Poets is forthcoming with Catamaran Literary Reader Press. His work has appeared / will be appearing in The Sycamore Review, The Vestal Review, The Texas Review, The Westchester Review, Quarterly West, Necessary Fiction and many other venues. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University. He can be found online at www.vincentrendoni.com/writer and @warshingtonian