by John Briscoe
for Emilia Serrano Briscoe
When all the others were away at mass
it was like that with me too.
I stayed home with her and her floured hands
and floured hair and apron. From the icebox
in the screened-in pantry she carried plates
of dough balls she had made the day before
of flour, manteca, water and salt,
each the size of my little fist.
Taking the top ball from the pyramid
she’d flatten it with the heels of her palms
then fingers working beneath the dough, thumbs
on top, begin to whirl a widening disc
much as I had seen the Italian cooks do
with two big hairy hands and much more dough
then would stop mid-spin and ask me in Spanish,
What is a mouse when it spins?, before
handing me a dough ball to try myself.
She would guide my little fingers but I,
I think now, could never get the hang of it.
Like a cook uncurdling a broken sauce
she’d repair my torn and tattered tortilla,
cook it on the griddle side of the stove,
a Wedgewood wood-burning stove and tell me I had made it.
She’d sizzle lard in a skillet to scramble eggs
with chopped calves’ brains and maybe
she’d make hot chocolate–
Sesos con huevos, con tortillas y–
acaso, tal vez, quizas, tal vez–
Come to think of it she never sat down
to eat with me, and rarely then with others.
She only served me, and cleaned after me
and told me stories during the while
of her husband, my grandfather murdered
by a stranger just for his police badge
when she was only twenty with four sons,
my father and his three younger brothers,
of her mother Trinidad, a singer
and bar dancer, and her father Fernando,
the woodcarver of Old St. Mary’s Church
in Phoenix, Arizona Territory,
who was also a saloon keeper
who could not enter the saloon he owned
because his kind was not allowed in a bar
anywhere in White Man Country
anywhere in the country.
That’s how I know
what little I know
That’s how I know
what little I know.
Finalist 2021 Poetry International Prize