Friday, March 7, 2014

the last of the chili powder

Year seven and material disintegrates. It's a matter ... of matter. And time. Last night, I used the last of my mother's chili powder. The hollow canister echoed the final caked particles too fat for the shaker holes. Hit it a few times and nothing else came out.

mom and dad, circa 2004
     Someone once told me that when someone very close to you dies, it takes awhile for all your 'selves' to understand that they are gone. The you who called Mom when you were lonely, vs. the you who went home because you felt obligated to go. The you who still felt safe in her living room or the you who learned how to cook from watching her roll various doughy objects in buttered hands. 

     I used the line in a poem. All your selves know, now.  I thought it was genius. Of course the closest I've heard to this philosophy from anyone else comes from a scene in Bates Motel where Norman Bates is trying to console Bradley Martin about her dad. He tells her:  

     I think grief is just the period of time it takes for your brain to accept that someone's gone. Cause everything in your body, your mind, your entire being being just keeps bringing you back to the moment that they're still alive. Takes a long time for your body to let go of that.

     Just look at that canister. I'm not sure they make these anymore. Spartan apparently merged with Nash Foods. I got to give 'em credit. They're one of few stores that stayed in Detroit. Farmer Jack, Kroger. They all pulled out. The blacker the city got, the faster they flew. When Farmer Jack went out of business I thought it was kismet. Of course, Spartans were never the best. Cheap and not well-stocked. The best produce I ever saw in a Spartan store was this morning on their revamped website. But that was then. Maybe they are different now. 

     What does it mean that while writing this post, a drunk man wandered into my backyard and lay himself across my porch, talking to the afternoon sky. I walked in on: much softness out there. He sat there for awhile. I watched him for awhile from inside. That initial thought: Call the police. Then I thought. For fucking what? He's just sitting there. Talking to the goddamn sky. 

     Every so often my mother would bring people home. To feed. She'd try to do it before my father got home. Because he would flip out. I guess from the outside looking in it was bad. Her bringing home those wild-eyed ones with their not-great smell. But my mother had a sense of things. More than a lot of people I know. Sometimes she had such a calm about her. Manic woman that she was, she could be so even-handed, so free of fright, and easy. In those moments, the shit was zen. Nothing could hurt us. I wasn't scared of her restless friends, or the time it took for her to make them meals. They often babbled on and I would go to my room, rather than 'have to' engage. But it's a small house. I was just out of eyesight. I could hear the whole exchange. The way they listed on and the way my mother would interject if there was quiet. 

    Do you want pickles?

It's my father who taught me the worst place to protect yourself is in hiding. My folks didn't like to hide. Too much most of the time. They were so visible. With his shotgun and her various days. They were not ashamed. Not of that. Anything that needed to be dealt with needed to be aired. Everybody knew everybody's everything. 

     Eventually I went out and asked him to leave. That went over weird. He said these were his friends too. I asked him to leave. He said no. He said it adamant, but soft. So I offered him a sandwich. He said yes. He said We'll wait right here. He waited for it in the snow. Like a chair. He took a seat in the snow. 

     What I wanted to talk about was how old spices have a smoke to them. An age. How I suspect that metal canister does some kind of barreling where plastic just lets it get stale. Seriously. Do you understand this last dash of chili powder I soaked into the onions for last night's turkey burgers would have to be at least 25 years old. I'm saying, I remember it as a kid. I remember wondering what my very basic-recipe mother was doing with chili powder. She kept in the back of a metal spice cabinet, piled high with canisters and small vials of space like a professor's crowded library. When she cooked, she clicked the vials around and re-ordered and repiled. 

     I gave him the sandwich. I asked his name. He gave me his whole name. He said it needed more mayo. Or some ketchup. Apparently I make the shit too dry. Eventually he asked for a ride to his sister's. I asked where she lived. He gave me his wallet. His wallet had a cracked driver's license, social security card and someone named Jeff's phone number. The photo on the i.d.: short hair, smiling, tanned. No sister's number. I thought about it for a long time. He said My colleagues are waiting on us. 

     It was the kind of calm I think came from the way she soothed her mind. When she locked everyone else out. She taught me how to do it. How to soothe it away. Eventually she turned it over to me and I was in charge. I stroked it away. I got to be good at it. By the time I was a teenager, I could make it go away. I could rock her and rock her. Or sometimes I could just stand in the door. 

     Fine. I said. The fuck am I doing? I give this dude a ride somewhere, it's a whole other level. He's gonna puke in my car. His sister won't want to open the door. He'll pass out in my car. He's already asking me to help him up out of the snow. The second time. The third.

The Spartans. were militant. They took over ancient Greece and dominated through the Greek army. Maybe that wasn't their whole shtick. But that's what they're revered for. It's not even about being the victor, it's about spirit of the war, the valor. All the fences you have to put on the body to have the valor, the metal. The shield, the armor. To wear the air of the conqueror. 

     Who are you? He kept asking. You're taking control and I do not like it.

      I got my coat. My keys. My i.d. He fell three times in the snow on the way to the gate. He wanted to climb the fence. I told him there was an easier way out. We walked through the gate. I asked him where we were going. He walked out past the car. He pointed to the sky. Up the hill, he said. I don't know where he meant. I said do you know where she lives. He pointed a different way. He walked out past the car. To the alley between me and the crappy fast food joint that stinks around this time of day.

     He looked down the alley. I had my keys, I guess. I had them. He said: There they are. They're waiting on us. Come on. He said. I said You see 'em? He said Yeah they're right there. I said well then go on ahead. 

      I have this image of my mother doing a strange dance in the kitchen when she is restless. She's in a housecoat. Much like this one. She's making a funny face. She's throwing her body and her arms around to no particular rhythm. That's how she danced. The floors would thump. There may or may not be any music. But you could hear her slippered feet.

dad in a junkyard wheelchair. he used to wheel it around the yard.


Reverend Roots said...

you expand me

forker girl said...

Love this! Marvelous!

Aggie Ebrahimi Bazaz said...

Francine, I heard you read "Why I Haven't Written" at the Interlochen Convocation for academic year 2014 and it moved me to tears. I've been sort of daydreaming about integrating it somehow into my project as this term's Filmmaker-in-Residence at Interlochen. Can we chat via email or even meet up if you're still up this way?

Aggie Ebrahimi Bazaz