El Salmo al Salmón

Corn is earth
As its yellow rows
Of kernels are sun

As you can never eat just one tamale
Because you can’t simply make one—
As impossible as it is for sky to brew a single drop of rain—

As when Uncle Rigo was little
And hated helping his mom make tamales,
As he was embarrassed
At the thought of her selling them
To feed a family of ten,

As he feared that the town’s kids
Would refer to him as
El hijo de la tamalera,
A name that would’ve stuck

As thick and endless masa
Spackled on soaked corn husks
As gesso priming a canvas
For the meat braised in its juices—
Muddened with red chili sauce—

As the blood flooding Uncle Rigo’s
59-year-old vision
Thick behind his irises,
Consuming his corneas,

As vapor locked in a stock pot
Packed to the brim with tamales,
Quiet, resigned to their demise,

As frogs resting in warm water
Until it’s too late and it boils—
Masa metamorphosis,
From agua bendita to hostia

As when his madre tamalera
Died unexpectedly and took
More than just her recipes with her,

As he dug deep within himself
To piece together her seasonings—
Embedded in her fingernails,
Under her whitening follicles—
Not from memory,
But regret,

As he was finally ready to see
That being her son wasn’t as bad
As being without her
To care for him
As nobody else could,

As on the day of my wedding,
When he smeared the frosting
Of the cake all over his mouth and nose
Because he still couldn’t see—
Even after all the surgeries—

As he could only hear me bawl
Like a pot ready to be taken off the fire,
Uncovered to spill the contents
That no longer nourish the tamales,

As he was more of a father to me—
As Mom’s older brother—
Than the man she married,

As when he realized that even though he hated
How the nickname sounded in his mind,
In his heart, he had always been a tamalero,

As he never lost faith
That he’d recover his sight
And find his way back
To the only home he knew,

As salmon fighting against the currents of time—
Broken, weak, then toughened by the same—
And reaching into the waters of Acheron
To embrace her tamalera hands,
Wet from cooking, never death,
Guiding him to the tradition of making tamales—
Hardships cocooned so tight
That they steam into miracles—

As the tamales return to the husk as masa,
Mature, humbled, transformed,
Ready to reveal themselves as what they were meant to be:

As Uncle Rigo continues to feed them to us all,
Making his family full of her again,

As when we eat them,
They become one with our bodies,

As our bodies, someday,
Will become one with earth.

Jose Oseguera is an LA-based writer of poetry, short fiction and literary nonfiction. Having grown up in a primarily immigrant, urban environment, Jose has always been interested in the people and places around him, and the stories that each of these has to share. He seeks to write about the accounts in marginalized people’s lives that often go untold and the beauty in the urban landscapes that goes overseen. His writing has been featured in Meat for Tea, Sky Island Journal, The Esthetic Apostle, The McNeese Review, and The Main Street Rag. His work has also been nominated for the “Best of the Net” award and the “Pushcart Prize.”