428: Oxtail Stew

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.

Oxtail Stew
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.