". . . .
Who are you?" She sat as she was and only watched him. He stood and came over to her. "Speak to me when I call to you. This is my land here, where are you from? Were you sent to me?"
"I came here to find you," she said. "I've watched you with your women and wondered if God was just."
"And has God sent you with a message for me?"
"Only that you are a murderer and a swine."
He struck her across the mouth. "I can have you killed. I can kill anyone I want. Do you know that?"
She shook her head. "Paradise has not been kind to you. There's no kindness in you even now. All you want is to fight."
"What have you got there?" He pointed at the bag.
"Let me see."
She opened the bag and reached inside. She brought out a miracle. A piece of simple, brown, flat bread.
He was stunned at the sight of it. "Is that real bread?" She placed it in his hand. She looked in his face. Bread. The warm flour dusted his fingers and he rubbed his fingertips to feel the grit of it. Not dates. Not sweet. Only the plainest of food. He held it to his nose and sniffed. Bread, such as he remembered eating long ago, somewhere back there. Simple honest bread, given by God. He licked it. All of his skin shivered at the memory. Sinking his teeth into it, he tore off a bite, chewing it slowly, tasting each humble globule as memories began to flood into him. He closed his eyes and the darkness was there. The deep darkness, but this time the veil was thin. The bread was in his mouth, and the memory of bread; and the veil was now ready for him to lift aside.
He tasted the bread, rolled it in his teeth. The bread. The simple bread. Getting his teeth into it—his teeth—swallowing it. . . . "
from "How Paradise Comes to the Blind" by C. Sanchez-Garcia
Coming Together Into the Light ed. Alessia Brio
We settle down at our little kitchen table with bowls of the soup my wife has been making for us all day. The little kitchen is filled with a cozy herbal steam. Carribean soups are very different from American soups. What’s considered soup to Spanish folks is more like what gringos would consider to be stew. It’s a bowl of ox tails and beef shanks, with potatoes and carrots, and sweet potatoes and nyame and yucca root and a ton of spices floating in a thick gumbo. I shake in some hot sauce and fistful of croutons and I have that special thrill of knowing I’m going to eat good tonight.
Reaching and grabbing as we do at the family table I glom the little plastic bag of cheese rolls we got at the Fresh Market where the rich folks shop. They have the best bread. They have the best of everything if you can afford it, but bread is what I usually buy or some espresso beans. The cheese bread is some kind of yeast roll with a lush crunchy crust of melted, baked on cheese all around. I tear off a piece and dab it in the thick soup. I could just sit here all night and eat bread and soup and not need anything else in the whole world. Sometimes good food is better than sex. While I stuff cheesy bread and soup in my mouth, I start thinking of the last supper, where Jesus and his little gang were dipping bread in wine. I’ve tried that bread and wine thing when no one was around just to see, but it seemed too woo-woo for me, something snooty people might do to show off for others what good taste they have. But its very filling that way. It occurs to me in the moment, Jesus and his bunch came from poor folks. Maybe if you’re poor this is how you fill up, how you stretch a meal. You get a lot of bread and dip it in something just to get it down the hatch until you’re full of bread.
Food is the universal sign of hospitality, the open hand extending bread to the stranger. My maternal grandmother lived near the railroad tracks during the great depression. She always kept a little cornbread and soup put aside for the hobos who would come around and eat at the little table in the back yard. In return they carved a stick figure of a cat on a tree facing the rail yard as a sign to others. In hobo talk, a cat picture means “A Kind hearted Woman lives here.” It means, “Be nice to her, boys. Behave yourselves.”
Bread and rice are the most universal foods of all mankind. They have that quality of humility, of being neutral and blank. Like a white canvas. Or a blank sheet of paper. Or a blank computer screen. They have a feminine quality, a kind of provocative, erotic submissiveness. They are there to be acted upon with your imagination. You want to touch them and transform them and fill your senses with what they become for you to give you pleasure.
As we’re eating I hear a scrabble at the other end of the table, sharp claws appear and there’s a soft meaty “thunk”. Its our cat Ronnie, a big 18 pound orange tabby. He’s 11 years old now, which is getting on for a cat, but he can still broad jump to the top of a ten foot privacy fence or a little dinner table. He stands on the table, his tail held high like a banner and looks around at his human family with our bowls of meaty "Caldo de Res". He pads over to my wife’s bowl, taps his nose at it to check it out. He looks up into her face with eyes half closed and begins to purr loudly enough to hear over the radio.
He turns around once and settles down near her bowl, laying there with his tapered eyes half closed in contentment and that permanent smile cats always have; his round killing paws tucked in, the hairy tip of his big tail batting up and down apart from the rest of him and goes on purring, studying our faces one by one. He’s not here begging for food. He doesn’t eat people food, he only sniffs to see what it is. What he likes is to watch us eat. Its something he understands. It’s something we all share together. We don’t have guests tonight, we almost never do, and we’re not embarrassed to have a familiar animal sit on our dinner table among our plates who just likes watching us eat, so we go on eating. He watches us. We watch him. He purrs. We eat. I suppose if we killed birds with our teeth he’d probably enjoy watching us do that too.
The radio plays some kind of string quartet and the table is full of the sounds of soup and purring and an occasional grunt of contentment. I keep thinking about Jesus, which I really don’t do that much except tonight. Jesus is like rice. Jesus is like bread. He is this blank page, this interesting canvas you discover in Sunday school, or at your mother’s knee, and you go on through life with your invisible friend, talking to him, praying to him, thinking of him with you and how much he loves you and wishes you well. And Sunday School Jesus goes on like a slice of lily white Wonder Bread that you smear peanut butter or jelly on, or maybe wrap around a big piece of baloney, and whatever people project on him poor Jesus just goes on purring and watching you eat. Maybe Jesus just likes watching you eat.
In the spiritual life I think I first went wrong when I thought I could reduce the incomprehensible, the sacred into a form I could butter with my petty expectations. To squeeze God into a jelly jar. Or finally a big baloney sandwich. But that’s all right, its what a young person does, and maybe should do, until life knocks you around enough to land you flat on your ass one day and you think “I really don’t understand this shit. I don’t know how this stuff is supposed to work. I don’t think I ever will, no matter how often wise people appoint themselves to explain it to me.”
I think the genuinely sacred is what it is because it’s beyond us, it can’t be comprehended. Its something you find in the cracks between ordinary things. It’s the atom, so tiny it exists mostly as an equation, an explanation of the ineffable. But the equation, packed into a bomb the size of a garbage can, is able to wipe out a city like Hiroshima in an instant like a piece of the sun falling to Earth. Or generating the golden apples of the Sun, heat the salty soup of oceans of water and fill it with life. Standing in the desert, or by a lake in northern country in Minnesota, looking up at the Milky Way, you get a sense of how huge our galaxy is, and there are so many galaxies, even God seems small, and what you do is surrender and realize you’re not meant to understand the sacred. You don’t even have the tools to understand it. But you can still know it when you see it. You can watch it with your eyes half closed and purr and just be glad its all around you.