Because they’re cheap and good and always last longer than the government checks that boil away in the Pyrex pot that sits on the flame building pressure and steam to slow cook the garlic and salt and bay leaves to a river-brown broth that soaks to the bones that bloom from the cactus of your mother’s garden to fill up the table like supper.
Which you love more than bread but never get right with an ingredient missing from the salt shortening flour that sticks to your skin with a white you can’t wash so you form instead an imperfect round ball rolled into the shape of a ghost ship from Iowa where your father came from before he sighed through the curtains of a hospital room to fill your house with a silent moon on a cast iron comal you watch through the window of a telescope lens at the end of a tunnel where you wait with a plate the size of the hole in your stomach.
Rolled up tight or laid out and layered like your mother’s whole family in the back of the Buick on a bed of quilts as warm as onions and cheese while they drive from Los Corrales to Los Angeles to Los Corrales again so Carlos can paint enough wartime ships to fill the mouths that sleep through the desert with road stripes stabbing like forks and knives to pull them apart before they’ve even arrived.
The pint-sized shadow you watch over your shoulder from the junior high quad where Chicano boys launch cafeteria bombs to stain the blond pages of history books drying sour as promise while you try to adjust the misplaced target that hangs on your back.
Hamburger Meat and Fried Potatoes
Filling the pan like a family reunion in your grandfather’s yard for the cottonwood shot of Uncle Mike and his Schlitz and Tony’s Dean Martin sheen and Georgina’s Rita Moreno smile and your mom’s “Nixon No” eyes and your Creedence Clearwater bangs and everyone mingling like salt and pepper made moist from the steam and sticking together to come undone like a mismatched salad of crispy and soft that feeds you like nothing else can.
Because you never eat turkey on Thanksgiving Day since your mother adopted stray ducks geese and owls and planted a branch of dried cedar in a tub of rocks from the Rio Grande where the Christmas tree stood and said “Being different is good” and if you really want to know the truth she’s more Basque than Latina and made of garlic and red peppers and ham and chicken and lemon juice and white wine and olives and tomatoes that retain their own flavor while still remaining whole and isn’t that the point of sustenance anyway?
Your deceased father’s favorite pounded soft with a mallet until the muscle breaks down and the fiber gives way and the Gold Medal ash is forced into the folds and served up with brown gravy and drowned Southern-style like a history you don’t know and a family you can’t name and a serving you can’t swallow no matter how hard you chew.
When the fridge is a warehouse of forklifts and crates and your sister spoons filling from a cherry pie can while your mother draws bones on a university canvas and you sprinkle corn dust on a heel of bread to convince yourself that the salt crumbs are sugar.
With warm water and chicken bouillon cubes because your dogs will eat anything when they’re hungry enough.
Red like the sand of the Jemez Mountain stream where you swim to escape the chlorine eyes of the North Valley rich kids and sleep in the sun on a saucepan boulder sizzling with oil and water and salt to make a paste from the grains that dry on your skin and fill your pockets with an ember glow that warms your belly and fires your lips until you fan your face and hold your breath and try to smile to extinguish the pain.
Betty Crocker Cake Mix
Any flavor any kind when the first check comes and the grocery cart fills and you pick one treat to carry you through from one Friday to the next from Lost in Space to All in the Family with a silvery glow in the darkened room that you just might find by licking the spoon.
Steaming the kitchen windows in red amber and green through the Christmas Eve boil of pork hominy garlic you see your own face staring in from outside like a ghost on the ditch on the way home from school with his hand raised hello like the dreams of your father who was born on this day and now waits in a box of photos in the closet to swallow the moths of memories that pass like the snow drifting down into paper bag candles filling with feathers of light.
Because it wasn’t as bad as it might seem and sometimes you walked through the kitchen door to find your mother at the counter with white flour and brown sugar making from scratch a kneaded loaf with a yin-yang eye curling toward a center uniquely its own to show what she said and what you try to believe that yes being mixed can be good.
Green as the cottonwoods above your bed and the water in the acequia behind your house and the horizon in the morning as you leave for good and the taste in your mouth that won’t go away and the cans you open 1,000 miles east and the bland you swallow when that’s all there is and the image emulsion behind your eyes and the roasting drums in the parking lot and the capsaicin smoke that writes your name across the sky that lets you know that the burn you feel is real.
One more time at the end of the month when the glass bowl rises like a mesa on the llano with shoulders to carry the whole damn family to an aquifer you swim with both hands wide to reach the roots you use as a spoon to drink the broth that fills furrows that reflect the clouds that that pulls the rope along the highway that draws you home.