We are all edible. Doubt it? Ask cancer. Ask time. Perhaps each person’s flavor is important, a kind of biography. A “you are what you eat” kind of thing. When we are small, eating makes us bigger. Swallowing brings forth the bounty of summer. When we are old, food is a stone within, a penance. Consumption of food and drink, like breathing, will be a mandatory continuous activity for the rest of the trajectory.
I am a furnace. To radiate desire, blistering and parching all proximity. Taste-filled nourishment sets the soul aglow. If taste, then, is the most passionate touch, it is a process of slow deciphering that culminates in dissolution upon a flat height, with all the intentionality of Abraham serving forth his son.
Perhaps you do not nourish. Worse yet, perhaps you are poison. Although you might be toxic to some organisms, what luck it is to be able to rely on the tenacity of others that will insist on trying to consume you. Perhaps evolution will eventually furnish these with some enzyme that will allow them to dine on you. And it is a them we are talking about. It will always be a them even if you are fully concentrated on a particular individual who nibbles on you passionately. Being poison may have affected your disposition. You, and I know you, would always prefer to be nutritious, or better, slightly unhealthy for the knowing gourmand, a guilty pleasure. But there is something worrisome about being out and out poisonous.
Maybe the situation is not so dire. Maybe you just taste bad. A touch too bitter, an odd texture, an unpleasant oiliness. Here, combination can be of great use. Suppose you are an ingredient and not the entire dish. You might be more appealing after certain digestives. Then there are the currents of fashion with which to contend. Today, the fatty strip of red meat walks the alleyway alone, while arugula looks down upon it from a penthouse window. I can tell you right now that you will never be everyone’s ambrosia.
Then there are those who will not deign even to eat anymore. They say that the problem is eating itself. They say that everyone you eat contains something bad for you. That we should stop eating altogether! Do they want to live forever? Is that the playful upbeat tune they carry in their hearts? You can see their pale faces on every corner. After not even a bite for weeks, collapsing suddenly to the ground like sacks heavy with brittle sufficiency. What sort of radical misanthropy is this?
To predators, on the other hand, each new face appears as an arrangement of delectable bites. Such hunger mapping however, usually leads to encounters without the benefit of etiquette or taste. The result resembles an animal gnawing the gristle off a bone much more than it does supper at the Ritz. Although excess may be the trait of a passionate disposition, it can often lead to the unwanted return of a flavor, now transformed by gastric juices into a burning gust or wilting spurt, ascended anew up into the mouth now as gurgling reflux or bursting burp. The worst of eating can become baroque regurgitation.
At lunch, leave some hunger for dinner, as it will inevitably present itself. Hunger remains something best felt subtly, between certain bounds, and under various types of control. Luckily, most of us do not daydream with being the object of someone’s uncontrollable craving. Such dropping of the reigns of hunger most often results in the back and forth movement described above, and is best avoided both as swallower and as swallowed.
Turning now to the other end of things, as it were, it could also be that eating you provokes evacuation. A few bites of you may sit heavy in the gut. Attempting to consume even moderate amounts of you might produce, in some, an unpleasant churning sensation in the belly. You are free to hide behind the excuse of being too rich and creamy, or indeed even too spicy for everyday fare. You may refer to others as too mild, as bland pap, implying that most others are pre-processed to be broken down easily. Your traumatic effect on others can easily be converted into a badge of rebellion. Still, this places you in the “for occasional consumption” category, delicate eating at best. Perhaps you have believed this all your life.
Attitude is something to be considered, as each of us ages on the shelf. Some of us are so pretentious, we require literally years of preparation before being properly plated. Surely more humility, more service is called for here. That way lies good eating. We should be prepared to give all of ourselves, to serve up our very bones to make the most meager of broths. It is the substance of what we are to each other. Let that float suspended in your cranial aspic for a moment. At least until the next bloody neck comes by to pounce on.
Duly aged and cured, you pranced about beneath the sash proclaiming your net weight. Few had access to such titleage. The culminating moment involved polite pinching and a sniff so close it could have been a nudge. And then the clamor moved on and you were left aghast and put away again, practically alone beyond the glass.
What odor, texture, taste could have led, then, to such heartbreak, to such finicky retribution? Is it desire, love, or the need for consummation that influences our diets and cravings? Perhaps, in the long term, you just were not as healthful as another. Or is the problem in the here and now. Are you a leftover? Are you stale? Rancid is as rancid does. Could you have spoiled in your preparatory term?
For the moment then, and whatever the case may be, kaputsky on the mastication, nix on the ingestion, and probably fare thee well on any salivary savorings to boot.
Suffice to say that the engagement is off. Sad to survive as a sample betwixt stained aprons, and live on, trying to appear fresh amongst the next batch.
Do not let this disturb the tender offal within you. As hard as it is to ingest the compulsions of nature, understanding them is yet harder. For instance, is it Caribbean of me to see those around me as low-hanging fruit?
Who can tell? Despite that proclivity, not to say lazy pleasure, for all things raw, all things bursting with freshness and bounding forth directly from big such’s garden, it must be confessed that the lion’s share of my interaction with my repast has been in the loving, detailed, and careful process of marinating, baking, mixing, sautéing, blanching, saucing, frying, boiling, liquefying, stuffing, broiling, and otherwise enhancing he and she whose keeper I am.
It is only human, however, that over a lifetime, one experience stands out as exemplary, particular, and memorable. This experience will tenaciously hold on as the main dish, so to speak, of what is a very long meal, will tinge all others with a slight regret. Such is the nature of satisfaction. As you must know by now, you have been that experience for me. For all my jibes and jeering, you are what remains upon my palate and conscience. You are that particular moment. You are that dish that I could have consumed without the least preparation or predisposition. And yet, I have labored over you. I have looked for perfect ways to serve you. I was so taken in, that I have brought all my meager skills to bear on what would be our interactions.
So, rather than talk about your breeding, your raising, and your separation from the anima that has made you so attentive at a certain moment, let us focus on the far more important process of transformation you go through after all that, in order for you to reach that state in which you may be of service to others, and in this case especially, of course, to me.
The road to delectation is full of turns and twists, and so I worry that you may not be as present in each mouthful as maybe you would have liked.
When are you the most with me? When I feel your flesh beneath my teeth, when you are still simmering, or when I sense the hint of you in the aftertaste of a sauce? My epiphanies are made up of such instances.
The arduous and daily process of learning how you behave as a substance. The additives, like comments on your very essence, those you respond best to. Mistakes made calculating the necessary warmth all your attributes require. I have left you dry and tough, or sopping and practically undone. I have not known always whether to cut across the grain of your very muscles. How could I have guessed the optimum setting for each piece of you? I wonder whether, in the end, the sum of my caresses has been an injustice to what you could have been?
I worry that you have felt fear. Fear like that which I feel, fear of disintegration. So, I strive to make you even more memorable. And there’s the rub. My mistake was to write you down in the recipe book of my life, each dish somehow a strategy for your survival.
But it is undeniably a book of use. Syllables have been smeared away in flour. The identity of ingredients has drowned in puddles of oil. The text is full of stutters now, gaps made by touch, margins shed, with their notes, like the brittle edges of leaves, wrinkling away. Moving farther away from discovery each minute, yet deeper now, aphoristic and inscrutable. The old question remains however. Back at the start, who chose whom? Then. But such pivotal remembered glimpses only descend further beneath the murk impenetrable. A fading image of you alone and adamant behind the glass gets smaller as my voice cajoles you to let yourself be wrapped in brown paper and taken away with me.
And so I asked myself then as I ask myself now. Why this exact way of keeping each other company? Why do I portion you? Is there a you that is just portions? And then to burn each portion, breaking down tough fibers and the tissue that connects you. Robbed of your bacteria, and now, perhaps finally, tender, a portion of you goes in my mouth. I begin to break you down, with my teeth, with my digestion. Why the desire, why the compulsion to ingest you over time?
But a world without limits is unknown to us. Our limits are what devours the other. With the years, in our minds, we diminish that other. We cannot rest if that other is not digested. To put a close to having been, do I need to have finished with you? To lose the excruciating focus on the ritual of enhancement and the filtering of contact through sensation? To see a day when concentration is let loose to wander?
Access to selfishness presumes not being part of decay. In the end, self-perpetuation is self-consumption. It is only keeping the candle lit. It cannot replenish or revive a mechanism designed to wind itself down eventually as it repeats the same worthless ritual of survival.
Why did you ask me to think of you when I ate this? You certainly have no idea what such a request has done to our streets, to our public and private meeting places. Pipsqueaks with their ears gnawed off, codgers whose eyes have been eaten out by those hungry for experience, clans hobbling along, propping each other up after one of the great cook-outs; blood, sticky on the sunny streets beneath the common sweet stench of the abandoned flesh of the sampled-upon and left. Most of the time, not even for a bellyful but rather as a passing fancy, a swipe at a taste, a quick snack.
All this because presumably nothing ever happens here. All this hunger because the trees have legislation which protects them, and all the bushes and shrubs are watered regularly. The water itself is clean and sparkles in the morning sun. Afternoon arrives so muted, so filtered, and the birds remain orderly. If only we were on the porch drinking lemonade as we did who knows when. But we are all indoors. The afternoon breeze is all alone as it wafts as best it can along the lanes. It wants to whisper something but can find no one to whisper to at the moment. If only you were out here to feel it on your skin. Despite the slight tension, you look beautiful behind the glass of the first floor window. Nonetheless, the morsels of everything in the interior behind you can clearly be seen to crumble apart, to form a little trail behind you.
Crumbs of living is how we have come to regard these moments that we are supposed to put in our mouths and moisten with our saliva and then bring to life later with our words.
Across the froth and shallow tide of a wide flat shore, mindlessness goes galloping past, the sweet and tangy pulse of a rampant heart over an expanse of empty savor, cracking the shell of each day beneath the tumult of craving, severing tubers in a snatch for dark pulp, clutching it as it beats out its mystery, now bland in the palm. Hooves like pestles, a charge of meat mallets over a landscape, mashed tender and bruised by conquest, incited by the temptation to disintegrate and break down, mastication beneath mandible and spit. Chewing to crush, to spread out over a surface, when cheek and tongue corral each bite back beneath teeth, when kiss means occlude, when the world is no more than a bolus.
It is as if, once I have cooked down passion, for others, for things, for living, for sustenance, once I have melted all that passion into one raging conflagration, I must instinctually turn the heat on everything around me. A train that burns the world to continue moving, a mouth of flames perpetually consuming everything around us, Moses’ bush become a vine of fire, censuring and refashioning all at hand. As if by subsuming you, making you part of me, my desire would at last be quenched. As if our inevitable union necessitates my metabolizing you, or, in the other instance, my serving myself up to you. As if my nostalgia for old Yorick would be more visceral and profound had I rediscovered him on a plate instead of in a graveyard. As if the sentimental had failed into the genital, and the genital had failed into this.
Alloral. Alliteral, Allarval. All this become a wordless howling, a noisy assonance, a hose trying to free itself of the pressure within it.
Because all is passing. The friction, from which the maggot lives, produces the smallest of sounds. And so the maggot sings its delusions of grandeur: I have swallowed the world that was. Everything that is passes through me at this moment. It is my task to mix and shape what will be. All that is before me must eventually suffer me to cover and surround it. There is nothing of me that is not process, and so I am elegant. I am a period of time. What will be is my past. I leave it behind me. Eating is not why I move. Eating is how I move.
Even when I curl, I am advancing, since decay has a direction. It is pointed toward and away. It is a current, perpetually in motion. The world is chubby with expectation for me. Stuffing is sacrificed to energy, and energy collapses into stuffing. The ligament is vermin.
While I aspire to be personal, to live one on one, to caress. In my everbye, I softly intone my lament of neverness. I am a ravenous baby, emerging into my crib of transformation. The egg cracks open a place beyond itself, leaving its tale, coming unsealed, creating a hole.
To buzz, to fly, to alight. These are all dreams of the next life. For now, I devour my descent, and my devouring is my song. I am a calliope, a series of whistles, where pitch, rhythm and duration express a life compressed, now that the chromatic carrousel is stilled. Occasionally temperature and passion will knock me off pitch. But this only adds to my charm, as I vibrate with the texture of that which fills me, farther and farther down.
I hear my voice and I wonder how long its echo will last. Will it manage to ring just a little bit beyond me, here where I most certainly linger at least this far, to this period at the end of this sentence given the chance to put my kitchen in order.
There is a sadness. It is not to be masked or dismissed. The thought, for example, that the only monument, as it were, what remains of “us”, of what we have been to each other, will be quite literally a pillar of shit. Even though I know that this, with time, this too will have its uses.
But now, now we have come to something different, a divestment. It was never a question of being ready for it. All the readies are behind me now. The time has come for me to shut my mouth, to put my knives away. No great fanfare there, we were peasants and we ate as peasants. We preferred the wood of the table to the tablecloth. The difference now is that the last of you is gone. The moment of communion is behind us. Even the memories of intermingling dissipate like smells in the hours after a supper. Hosts and celebrants, we breathed in these festivities. Inevitably, we will have spent what we are and the soldiers will come. And now that you are eaten, my meal is finished. I set down my utensils. There is no going back. Digestion only moves in one direction.
About the Author
The son of Colombian parents, George Mario Angel Quintero was born in 1964 in San Francisco, California, where he spent his first thirty years. He studied literature at the University of California, and was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. Under the name George Angel, he has published poetry, fiction, and essays in English. Since 1995, he has lived in Medellin, Colombia, authoring seven books of poetry, and three books of theater plays all in Spanish under the name Mario Angel Quintero. He continues to write and publish in both English and Spanish. He is also a musician, a visual artist, and a theater director.