Lauren Camp

One Hunger Could Eat Every Other

We sit at the long table. My grandfather speaks until the entire alphabet exists in the palm of my hand. I swallow but can’t discern a word. Outside, branches stand, lit from within. The last reason and consolation: the song of our fathers. In this house, our lips envelop the bread, the egg yolk and honey, the braid of the yeast, our lamentations. Men are smoking, unhurried. Women leave the room and return with gray hair. We sit across from whoever appears, aunts from Toronto, Tel Aviv, London, South Africa. Distant cousins and uncles and business partners. We remember their names, their bruised pickled syllables. We’ll see them again.

Here is my grandmother. She stayed in the kitchen, cooked chicken for dinner. Onto plates, rice with raisins. Into bowls, string beans and okra. She brings out the food, blessing her sons without speaking. My grandmother, toothless.

The truth lives in my grandmother’s kitchri, the butter-gush and red-cheeked lentil. In the wide white pans and platters. For weeks and years we return, seizing all beet and fig, skin and bone, eating slabs and glands with our fingers, watching invisible gazelle, hearing owl. This goes on and on. My uncles argue. Each defense is as close as they come to caress.

One uncle pulls at his jowls. Another pulls out his money — all C-notes. He makes sure we see as he counts, forward and back. My father sighs from his chair in the room with tall windows. His eyelashes crowd together, curve down. He once told me – The dust gets trapped in our eyes. My lashes let me go out in the world.

We eat for years and years. We eat like beggars. We eat to the bones and the edges of our plates. We eat the road they took to get here, the many myths they left behind. We grab with our hands, our mouths still full. We eat until the tablecloth is stained with conversation, and the severed tongue of a cow, beet-grief, the village air.

Watch the elderly aunt —Victoria, with her tired red shawl and box of old cakes. Everyone talks without punctuation, and the room is a river of sound down the long cloth with its flashes of garnet.

We eat each clutch of sweet, salt, fat, plight. After many bowls and forks. Until gorged, until demolished. What is lost is more succulent than what was gained. We eat until the table is again table, a collection of plates with small pearls of leftover fat. In the kitchen sink, dishes pile up with utensils. Remaining grease and grains of rice embellish warm rivulets of water. At the back door at dusk behind boxes and screen, a black cat with a broken tail is entangled in the yellow-eyed daisies. My aunt pours him some milk, her fingers tired and bent. A train bleats as it rolls past. The cat flares, then gorges on liquid. Both sounds spill out from the dark, side by side. The thick line of life is all hunger. We eat as the sky recedes to countless diaphanous layers. We eat as logic, loyal. Knowing it will end.
Either we are full — or tired of the howl.
After midnight, we drive home, over the bridge, past the thick wheat and sugar smearing the Bronx, past every reference, through the confident dark.