Autobiography of My Hungers
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
Title Page, Copyright
I gratefully acknowledge the editors of the following publications in which these works first appeared. ...
like many Mexican children, I cleaned the piedritas out of the uncooked beans before they went into the pot—my meal-prep duty to help my overwhelmed mother as she spun around in the kitchen. The process was simple, but time-consuming: a pile of beans was placed at the edge of the table, ...
I. leaving the motherland, mother leaving me
for the households without washing machines, the place to do the laundry by hand in Zacapu, Michoacán, was at La Zarcita, the lake on the other side of town. My father carried the basket of clothes on his shoulder; my mother held my hand as we made the journey to the concrete washboards. ...
the “apples of the earth,” they’re called in France, and in Spain, “patatas”; but in the Spanish-speaking Americas we call them “papas,” from the Quechua, and they always sit at the center of the table, silent witnesses to the meals that we have or don’t have in our crowded homes. ...
in Purépecha, the town’s name means “rock,” though we have been chipping away at it for generations, flattening the landscape and replacing the boulders with brick. ...
i was allowed to take only three personal possessions to El Norte. We would be traveling by bus for three days and two nights, my mother, my brother, and I, to meet with my father and grandparents at the U.S.–México border. My mother packed our clothes. ...
we didn’t have a washing machine at our house, so at week’s end my task was to take the laundry down the street to my aunt’s. My mother would walk over later in the afternoon to do the wash. ...
it’s not as if we didn’t have elevators in México, but I had never used one. I simply passed by banks, hotels, office buildings on my way to the single-story market, bus station, school. But then, at ten years old, after migrating to California, after getting sent for a physical by the school nurse, ...
my witch was a poor witch: no shoes, a black tattered dress with patches crawling over it like red and blue spiders, and a shaky black house with curtains on the window that matched her dress. ...
i joined the excitement down the street, where crowds had gathered from a safe distance to witness the wall collapsing from the weight of the water spewing out of the fire truck’s hose. The displaced family stood apart from the rest of us, like actors on the stage at the end of the play. ...
at the time of the photograph, I didn’t notice the tree going hungry in the back, its plastic branches spaced apart like bones on a ribcage. The tinsel drooping like strings of saliva. An anemic rosary of Christmas lights. My brother and I knelt in front of the tree, our striped shirts compensating for the dearth of gifts beneath it. ...
another birthday and no party. No presents, either, except for a dollar bill, if my father remembered not to spend all his money on beer. My aunt, taking pity on the emptiness of my day, asked me to come over to her house for a surprise. ...
mami, I wrote to my mother, stop calling me fat. I will run away if you don’t accept me like I am. I placed the piece of paper on the nightstand, beneath the largest bottle of pills. She was bound to find it, she in bed most of the day, groaning with pain I didn’t understand. ...
my mother had crooked teeth, my brother has crooked teeth, and so do I. Braces were not an option in a household where I had to break open my piggy bank one summer to help my mother pay for a crooked suitcase sold to us by a neighbor. Even then I knew our neighbor had let go of her luggage out of pity. ...
my grandparents loved to work with soil and claimed for their exclusive use whatever small plot of land we were entitled to in our low-income housing in California. Abuela grew flowers, vegetables, and herbs; Abuelo, trees. By spring, our tiny yard was cluttered with roses, mint and tomato plants, fig, papaya, and lime trees. ...
abuelo did his share of damage to our family before he died, but nothing as twisted as what he did to the neighbor, an elderly man who kept taking Abuelo’s parking spot. I knew he was in for it when he answered Abuelo’s complaint with a dismissive “You don’t own it. ...
for months after my mother’s death I had a recurring dream: that I was riding an aerial tram as it slowly descended a mountain. I didn’t see myself but I knew I was inside the metal gondola suspended on the cables. Nothing tragic ever happened, but the feeling of weightlessness, of stomach queasiness, ...
my father bought me a left-handed baseball glove, which made my hand look large and masculine, not the feminine, delicate hand I had to remember not to press against my hips. As soon as I slipped it on I knew I would be bored, and I made no effort to hide it as he stood a few yards away, yelling out “Catch!” ...
“why don’t one of you join the border patrol when you grow up?” my father suggested one time as we were inching our way toward the international border by car. We had spent all week visiting our cousins who, after all the trouble of getting their green cards, fled most of the year back to México. ...
II. unsettled independence
freshman year of college I lived on the third floor of the dorms, and though there was an elevator, it was always quicker to sprint up the flights of stairs. The only time the elevator was useful was when I hauled my laundry to the basement. Every other week that was my routine, the trip so familiar I counted my breaths to it. ...
my only girlfriend in college is a Chinese immigrant and when we tossed around in bed I told her we were all beans and rice, my Spanish seasoning her Mandarin. She would roll her eyes and kiss me. She said there was no need for a condom at the peak of her period and my semen mixed with her blood and we never made a baby, ...
at first it took only two pills to knock me out. Weeks later, I doubled the dose, though I quickly rounded that figure to five. These were my graduate school days in California, though it wasn’t the deadlines or the heavy reading that kept me awake; it was Abuela’s phone call: ...
It was not the first time I had written a suicide note, though I was certain that someone else besides me was going to read this one. I had grown so thin that I vanished beneath the covers. Once, a one-night stand was surprised to find me there when he pulled the blankets in order to make the bed. ...
to supplement my income while going to school, I took a position as a residence counselor at a group home for developmentally disabled adults. Since I was new I was given the graveyard shift, working from 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., and all I had to do before I left was feed the residents breakfast and start dispensing pills. ...
she was my cat, a stray calico that gave birth on my bed on the night I took her in. I gave the four kittens away as soon as they stopped their suckling, my poor Xóchitl nearly sucked dry. She didn’t look for them once they were gone, and I knew she was my kind, unsentimental about moving on. ...
my father’s voice now slept in a box, in a recording I made as a joke the time I visited him on the border. My stepmother was in on it and baited him to say silly things, though silly things were what my father liked to say when he stood over a ditch, looking for toads on a mosquito-infested afternoon. ...
dead now for decades, my mother. Yet I had been careful to preserve certain ceremonies in her honor: candles on her birth date (March 21), candles on her death date (September 12), candles on Mexican Mother’s Day (May 10), and flowers for her grave when I visited Michoacán, where she’s buried. ...
dirty Absolut. Up. With olives. It was another way for me to feel sophisticated, a citizen unapologetic of his bourgeois tastes. Though in the back of my mind I knew that I would lose control by the second round and I would be no different than my father sitting in front of a twenty-four-pack of beer, ...
III. in search of paradise
the Mexican bus station bubbled with activity. Sitting down offered no respite because of the constant anxiety of noise that swarmed through the halls and polluted the air above the waiting rooms. That’s where I found myself in Michoacán one summer, Abuela sitting next to me, her legs locked around her vinyl shopping bag ...
my brother’s white rabbit ran free, its pulsing body fickle and erratic as it scurried in the backyard while my brother mixed cement. I stood next to the Great Dane, shooing flies off its face, wondering why the dog let the pests have their way. ...
as a homesick immigrant, I longed to mix in with my people whenever I returned to México. Once I was in Taxco, in the state of Guerrero, though my family was from Michoacán, so I made do on this visit as an interpreter at a writers’ conference. ...
i lost my eyesight in Oaxaca for three days. A type of cyst on the eyelid I had been ignoring for months finally caught up with me, and so I had emergency surgery just hours after arriving by plane. The necessary blindfold after the removal of the cyst added to the injury ...
she chose México, she said, because she didn’t feel ugly here, not like in the United States, she, a Persian girl fleeing the Iran-Iraq War with her family. We met in college in California, and after she graduated she flew south, perfecting her Spanish, teaching belly dancing to natives and tourists alike. ...
on a visit to Coyoacán, I took a stroll through the plaza and came upon a crowd gathered around a street clown. Anything he did provoked a communal laughter—fake falling, scratching his head, dribbling water on his red clown shirt. ...
the ocean along the coast of Brazil was deceptively calm. And since it was clear and still as a swimming pool I decided to swim laps, moving back and forth in the warm water. The exercise was so effortless, so smooth, that when I lifted my head from the surface again I discovered that all that time I had been floating away. ...
another June of fatherlessness, childlessness, while the word, father, floated through the air like pollen, the fecundity of it birthing memories of Apá, Papi, forgivable and forgiven on his one special day. But on the other 364 he remained that shadow of a man, afterimage, ring of condensation on the counter that slowly vanished.
i was standing on the side of the road in Bonnyrigg, Scotland, waiting for the double-decker bus headed to Edinburgh, when I heard the clop-clop of a horse. On the horse was a beautiful young woman with long, golden hair, and I thought, how Godiva-like she was in her beige riding outfit. ...
IV. body cravings
on the first night we made love, we slipped into each other’s arms on the living room floor. The gesture was impulsive, and after a few awkward bumps against the couch, the bookshelf, the wall, we squeezed our muscles together until we were a pile of sandbags, airtight and thick with pressure. ...
a year after moving to New York City, I was still incredibly lonely, though I had just moved in with my boyfriend, another writer. He worked long hours, and I, just out of graduate school and still unemployed, stayed home to read and write. ...
i noticed the guy sketching even before I sat down, but it was not a strategic decision at all. When I have a choice I sit facing the eye candy, and this guy was not even close to handsome. But it was the only available chair in the coffee shop, so I ended up facing the sketcher, who kept to his task throughout my stay. ...
one evening I got caught in a legendary Manhattan monsoon, and I bemoaned the drenching of my Kenneth Cole dress shirt, my black slimming slacks, my Italian leather shoes. The umbrella was useless, since the rains struck sideways as if from a fireman’s hose, so I tossed it into a puddle and watched the spokes glare with the streetlights. ...
my lover and I rode the 6 train to Manhattan’s Chinatown. It was our weekly excursion, this search for ingredients prominent in Asian cooking, and with it, always the wonderful assault of jade and calligraphy, fish and lotus seed, Mandarin and Cantonese. ...
my brother told me he saw a ghost in the hallway last night, a boy wearing a baseball cap mouthing to himself as he leaned into the bookshelf as if trying to make out the words on the spines in the dark. It was 5:00 a.m., the time of night when he rises to piss, ...
mike asked if my name was really Mario. He asked before sex, though I told him my name was Rick. I was not Rigoberto. Rigoberto knew better than to get picked up by a stranger for pseudonymous sex. ...
“what do you write about?” he asked, and I answered, quite simplistically, “Life,” offering the man I was going to sleep with that night a bouquet of yellow flowers instead of a handful of thorns had I admitted, more truthfully, “Death” or “Violence” or “Pain,” ...
i had to walk with a cane. Inexplicably I lost my balance and the doctors had yet to diagnose me with my affliction, but this didn’t stop me from taking my strolls along the park. ...
i had always been something of a dandy: Ted Baker ties, Italian leather shoes, designer coats with epaulettes and buttons shiny as doubloons—all the prettiness that hid my impoverished past. But when I had to sport a cane I resented the accessory that had been forced on me. ...
the second and third molars of my lower right jaw were impacted and had to be yanked out, finally, because one of them was turning black. I’d open my mouth and tongue the small blocks of enamel huddled together—a veritable pietà of bone. ...
i’ve dressed my studio in red: red sheets, red couches, red desk chair. But it’s the red hummingbird among a bed of roses on the monoprint that hurts the most. It’s pinned to the wall like a gash slowly clotting. ...
the refrigerator remained empty year-round. I was unable to put any food inside without pulling it out an hour later and consuming it all. It was the same for any perishable item: bag of chips, box of granola bars, a banana bunch. Not all at one sitting, but at thirty-minute intervals. ...
while traveling in Switzerland I went on a walk among the vineyards and the apple orchards, picking at the fruit and marveling at the size of the sunflowers lounging at the side of the road like a pride of lions. From across the field I spotted her—an old woman dressed completely in black, a storybook witch on her way back to the forest. ...
Page Count: 64
Publication Year: 2013
OCLC Number: 841908693
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