428: Oxtail Stew
428: Oxtail Stew
This week, we’re featuring poems about food and all the many ways it sustains us. Because food is community and memory. It’s struggle, joy, and so much more.
by David Dominguez
At five o’clock in the morning, I walked to work and passed the green ponds of Horizon Park where the last bluegill, caught on the low, slight bank, panted hard in the dark mud, crushed glass, sour bottle caps, whiskey, and the iron weight of heat and smog. This haze stared through eyes gray as the broken window panes on the cheap side of town, and when this haze held you and whispered in your ears its quiet tragedies, it stole your breath quick as time. This is where men gathered to sell peanuts, buckets of oranges, and roses, and they sat on the benches and watched the trucks drive by and disappear. What I want to say is simple: a man must do more than sell roses where the bums go and beg— he must keep something holy. He must breathe the winds that rustle the orchards of the valley where the white almond blooms replenish with their soft scent. He must learn from the Appaloosa when she walks in from the fields and bows her head to a trough of water that reflects nothing but her eyes and the stars. Shoulder, fat, bone, and loose sheet metal banged out a day-long cacophony. Twenty-eight pounds of spice had to be mixed before the grinder was done. Mustard powder, paprika, salt, and chili powder boiled in my nose, in my eyes, and in the red throb of my hard nicked-up knuckles. By late morning the meat defrosted, and the boxes began their ooze. Pig parts became easy to recognize. Eighty pounds of guts, kidneys, and stomach fell across my chest each time a box ripped apart. We dared not stop the music of our work: the clack of a clean pine pallet, pink meat and white fat ground to a pulp, sweetened, stuffed, and crimped, the chorizo boxed, the boxes labeled, stacked, and wrapped. At lunch, I watched Guillermo hunker over the table and dig into his stew—carrots, potatoes, celery, oxtail, and gravy, made from chili peppers and fat, smoldering in a ceramic bowl. Guillermo took out a white cotton napkin and spread it evenly across his lap, picked up a piece of sourdough ripped from a loaf and soaked the bread in the stew for a long time . . . his own tired body taking back what the work took, and he ate. He sucked on chili peppers the color of blood and took another bite of the bread. He sucked out the beef from the eyes of the bones and gnawed on the soft marrow, and he drank hot coffee sweetened con canela. “Eloisa,” he said, “can cook,” and he touched the brown lace crocheted into the edge of his cotton napkin, rubbed his gut, wiped the table, and walked out to complete his work.
"Oxtail Stew" by David Dominguez, from WORK DONE RIGHT by David Dominguez, copyright © 2003 David Dominguez. Used by permission of the University of Arizona Press.