We haven’t had a food poem in a while, so I dug up a juicy one for y’all…
Today’s poem is from Alberto Rìos, an Arizonan poet born in 1952 who inhabited two worlds growing up: the Mexican world of his father and the English world of his mother. The result is the kind of poetry that reminds me strongly of Gabriel García Márquez’s magical short stories. Today, Rìos is the Regents’ Professor of English at Arizona State University (coincidentally, my incredibly talented uncle is the Regents’ Professor of English at the University of Arizona just up the road) and recently published a memoir about growing up on the Mexican-U.S. border, called Capirotada: A Nogales Memoir.
I love everything about this poem: the feeling of anticipation, the palpable energy from the crowd and from Ventura herself, the way that Rìos sets the scene so perfectly that you can taste the dust in the air, feel the heat of the sun and the jostle of elbows, hear the livestock scuttling underfoot, and grasp the sense of grandeur and awe that can come from one small kiss.
The Pomegranate and the Big Crowd
Ventura because she was hungry and because
She was curious—but more because she was curious—
Took the dare, a kiss for a pomegranate.
Everyone gathered, her friends and his. Everyone
Watched: the boys, the girls, the pigs and the chickens,
And more. Moving to the front were the children
She and Clemente would one day have,
And the children of those children, too,
Gathered and loud with everyone and everything else,
Loud as the pigs and fast as the chickens
Though she could not see them.
Still, they crowded her, and she could feel
Their anxious breathing.
This boy Clemente whom she would kiss
She would have kissed even without the pomegranate,
Though she could not say it
And was glad of this game. He suited her,
She thought. He had a strong face.
He felt what she felt. She could see him look around
But not at their friends. She could see him
Feel the shiver of the children they would have:
Their son Margarito, his two sisters
Both of whom would become nuns
If just to pray enough to take care of him,
This boy so serious he would seem like a stranger
In their arms, serious enough by himself
To make up for Clemente and Ventura
And for all the laughter
They themselves would feel,
This curious child who, as an old man
Would never trust a doctor for anything.
And his serious wife to come, Refugio,
And her sisters, Matilde and Consuelo as well,
All the people who would follow this kiss,
So many of them, and their children, too,
Everyone stood there, arms up, everyone watching,
So much noise in this moment,
This quick lending of herself
To his cheek, the way Ventura would later kiss
All these impatient children of theirs. The kiss
Seemed so small, but was filled with itself.
This small moment of affection she gave this boy
The quarter-second that it took:
There they all stood, waiting with the crowd
Egging them on, hefting the pomegranate
And pushing them toward each other.
Clemente and Ventura in that quarter-second lived
Their lives, a quarter-second not finished yet.