The Tale of Kitchen Spirits
Ages ago, this town was all wood.
You had to get to know each tree as a
madrina. You knew this birch that creaks
with wind guides you west; this willow with
bark soft as hair would sing songs from
before the arrival of sky. And everyone
could hear the spirits.
Spirits don’t use words, slow things
that they are. Spirits talk to the bones,
the hands, the hips. Wood women
spoke to the spirits the most. They
learned many important stories—
like when the sun used to have wings
and how leaves came to be.
Priests came from far away, adorned
with beads of gold and brass. They impressed
the woodfolk with their finery, with their
silks and shoes. And they said only they
could know spirits.
They made women stay inside
so they could forget how to speak
from their bones and feet. They
said, you work best in service,
and they passed skillets and spoons
and iron and made each wood
woman kneel in thanks.
The priests, they’d stopped hearing
spirits years before. It happened so
slow and soft. They confused the ritual
for the spirit, and for this, they lost
If they could follow the voice
of spirits, they’d see that the spirits
moved out of their consecrated
customs. They’d see that the spirits
moved into the kitchen.
We still have kitchen spirits,
you know. Why do you think
your madre has hung those stone
stars over the stove. How
does she cut the skin of sky
with her cuchillo and make storms
dissolve as though she’d asked nicely.
If you listen close, you can hear
her talk to the spirits. Sometimes
she even prays aloud, even though
the spirits have always preferred
fingers and bone.
In the name of la madrina de birch,
she tosses the tortillas on the skillet.
En el nombre de las caderas,
swung from side to side to the heart
beat. We gather the ghosts on the vine
and dice them to la salsa cut with lluvia.
Amen, amen, y amen.
The Tale of Spice
Saffron first came to me
by way of yellow ochre
paint: blended with hooker
green and zinc oxide and crimson
to make the orange olive of my skin.
Later, I encounter the dried stigmas
at some market in college
and the price floored me.
We didn’t dream of soaked saffron
for our arroz. Mami darkened
the grains by toasting them
on the cast iron, by stirring
in salsa de tomates. How
could we imagine things
like the most secret parts
of flowers, plucked by hand?
Even coming from a line of people
who picked apples, avocados,
We ran out of food at the end
of the month, living on bread
flavored with mustard. But in
the beginning, when we were
rich, we called our spice
cominos, chile, ajo.
If our father got overtime,
we treated ourselves
to flakes of pink sea salt,
pinched over bowls of fidello
and pollo like jewels.
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Raquel Vasquez Gilliland is a Mexican-American poet, painter and aspiring micro-farmer. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Dark Mountain and Fairy Tale Review. She's most inspired by plants and stones and her family. Her first collection, Dirt and Honey, will be released in March by Green Writers Press.