430: Fish Heads
430: Fish Heads
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 R.A. Villanueva
Yanked free at the gills from cartilage and spine, these fish heads my mother cleans, whose bodies she scales, throws all into salt water and crushed tamarind. At dinner she alone will spoon out their eyes with her fingers, suck down each pair as we watch. See, this is why the three of you could never hide anything from me—as though these organs brought her sight to be soaked through the tongue. When I tell her that I have tried to make this stew from memory, she warns, Don’t waste what should be eaten. Reminds me of every delicate gift we have thrown away: tilapia stomach best soured with vinegar, milkfish liver to melt against the dome of the mouth. That after church, a bucket of chicken soon became a blessing of wing gristle and skin, dark meat no one else wanted to save. We refused to taste her gizzards and hearts fried in fat, mocked the smell of pig blood curdled on the stove, wished gone her tripe steamed with beef bouillon and onion broth. After my brother and sister push aside bowls of baby squid in garlic ink, gag at my mention of ducks in their shells, boiled alive in brine, my mother believes I was the only one to share in such things. Which maybe means, she says, in some former life you and I were seabirds or vampires or wolves.
"Fish Heads," by R.A. Villanueva, from RELIQUARIA by R.A. Villanueva, copyright © 2014 University of Nebraska Press. Used by permission of University of Nebraska Press.