Freezer Burn

          I pull in late.
Ripe with the day’s brine. Shuffle up the steps. Melodies
of traffic like wannabe ballads still drumming in my ears,
stale as the aimless motion, always rushing to this from that,
always something as we go: a hole in a bag, tidal waves, rifling
for keys in the other pocket. I set the groceries on the chair.
Feed the fish. Water the plants. I kick a grape then eat it up
off the rug. The cat’s on the counter with her tail in the junk
drawer left open. I scratch her back and ask her how she
got here, who she thinks she is. But who am I? Craving salt
as usual. Dinner’s a warm beer and a fistful of olives, some
pickles wrapped in Swiss cheese. You’d say that’s not a meal.
And I might agree. It’s no mushroom risotto or peach pancakes
after midnight, but I’m stuffed—like all those seasons we ate
to kill the hunger pains, living in that closet above a laundromat
with the slanted beams and spirits trapped in the radiator,
our one and only window we could never close, could taste
the cigarettes and bleach. All we had was that corduroy
couch from the curb, blankets for a bed, no table to eat on
but the piano bench to the old upright that came with the place.
Some things are too heavy to move, the landlord said. This will have
to stay
. And it did. Because we didn’t know how to be weightless
with the surge that shook beneath, the 24-hour machines chugging
away the grime like our legends, like the smoke alarm I busted
with a broom after the cast iron biscuit incident, or the wishbone
broth that simmered all winter long. Together we learned,
we listened to the impulse of getting by. Life was an inside joke.
          Mornings we drank
government milk with cinnamon before setting out in our own
directions. I’d try to sell my words to fit in perfect columns.
I mean crumbs on the dollar. I’d write their threnodies for free.
And you’d lug that cello from corner to corner, performing
your sonatas next to a man stained gray who better identified
as a statue. Sometimes an apple rolled into your case, a box of
raisins, tangerine peels covering your music sheets. After the last
applause you’d flatten a bill and hurry on to rummage through
bruised produce in bins at the market doors: bananas, squash,
plums, an onion, all the ugly skins, then pluck sprigs of mint
and rosemary from a garden on North Brevard. I’d loiter at
newsstands for the dirty talk or join a search party to get off
the map for a while so I could stop and smell the oregano, pack
my hands with basil and stems of thyme, a few tomatoes drooping
over the barbed fence on Paradise Alley. Rarely are you found
if you lead the way. The destinations always change. That or you’re
absorbed by the trees. What else. So it was habit I’d follow the same
path back to South Elliot and scale the bottom shelf of the Minute
Mart for dented cans and days-old bread, instant noodles, anything
about to be expired.
          Sundown
we’d start again. Tired of the oatmeal sludge. We’d empty arms
and tally the harvest, ration the stumps and rinds for stews to fill
us through the weekends. If we had eggs and rice we’d fry them.
You’d slice a carrot, some broccoli. Cut around the brown. I’d dice
a brick of spam and marry it all in oil. Shiitakes were a luxury.
Chili filled us right. Peanut butter ramen was a lifeline to the mess
we made, the accidents that defined our recipes, huddled in that
hole of a kitchen, our backs pressed against each other, no one to be,
water almost to a boil on a two-eyed stove, elbows nudging except
for when we’d consider anyone who’s died in a glimpse trying to get
a closer view of the moon. We fail to look both ways in a trance,
you’d say, grinding pepper into a sauce, crunching twigs of uncooked
spaghetti while I’d shred lettuce or mash garlic into paste. We were
lucky if we ate until we couldn’t. Maybe whipped cream for dessert.
A piece of mud pie where I’d eat the blueberry first and you’d save
yours for the final bite, like the dishes piled to soak and clog the sink.
Not enough soap in the world to strip the grease we leave behind.
I’d pull sponges from the drain and scrub the bowls a thousand
times as your fingers grazed the plank of piano keys, the muted
notes and broken chords, and across the street the siren lights
and song spilling through the curtain, swallowed by a galaxy
of lint and foam.
          A bug flutters
in the blinds. The faucet leaks. And I am stuck like syrup
that’s charred to the bottom of a pan. How often do you
lock yourself out now?—to walk in to cabinets wide open,
the refrigerator’s hum, all the magnets gradually to the ground.
If you are not soaked or famished or both after the thaw, then
what is it you still starve for? Thrills interrupted, when stability’s
an uneven table, a feast without an appetite. That’s why the
knives stay sharp, more than needed, Chinese on speed dial
for those nights I botch another recipe from memory. Too bland
to be devoured. Too hot to taste a thing. The oven won’t stop
beeping as it’s flush with an avalanche of crumbs on fire
that smothers the lid to the sauce I stir and stir until it’s steam
and soon reduced so much you’d never know what it was before.

 

 

 

 

Chad Weeden’s work has appeared in Asheville Poetry Review, Pedestal Magazine, great weather for MEDIA, Iodine Poetry Journal, Main Street Rag, & Kakalak. He is a portrait photographer, living in Charlotte, North Carolina. For additional information, visit his website: chadweedenphotography.com.