Not until we moved to California
in the seventh grade did I come
to appreciate the tough delicacy
of the tortilla in its myriad forms.
Mom mostly made them layered
in enchilada casseroles covered or
rather smothered in orange cheese,
lubricated in canned vegetables.
One of my first jobs, and maybe
the best, was at the one-man market
on Anacapa Street in Santa Barbara
where my boss Tom trusted me.
Across the street, up some stairs
in a yellow stuccoed adobe house
was a garden of delights where I was
inititiated into the temple of the taco.
The mother manager was friendly.
The daughter servers inspired lust.
I never saw the dad in the back but
he was the angel Gabriel at the grill.
Three to a plate on a bed of rice
toasted, red and chewy like oats.
In hot bites small and cautious,
meat and maize blended like lovers.
Not knowing the names of the chiles
all I can tell you is that they filled
the dense head and opened up spaces –
green like oases, harsh like swearing.
I’d go there before my evening shift
at the cash register selling sandwiches
of tasteless egg and turkey with cans of
cola and fanta with chips and jerky.
And I would stand by the window watching
the casa where customers leaving would
wipe their brows and laugh out loud
promising to return mañana.
Since then decades ago
across several wide continents
those mouthfuls have stayed with me
to clear my transient head of bland fog.
How do we get, we ask, from the basics
to the heavenly treasures of our senses
daily crushed, cut, pounded, simmered,
and fashioned for the thankful?
We follow the righteous recipes
handed down from higher up and long ago,
elbows on the table, eyes only half open,
mind aromatically elsewhere.
There were decent places to eat
in Austin, San Antonio and El Paso
but they were all resurrected shades
of that house of verde and rojo …
where before and beyond hunger
mortals were and still are transported
to the spinning, spicy, transcendant