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Vanessa Escobar – Why I Can’t Eat My Grandmother’s Fried Liver and Onions

Vanessa Escobar writes about her poem: “In Mexican culture, like most others, making dishes and food for others is such a big deal. To not want to eat the meal can come off as pretty insulting. Unfortunately i wasn’t so attuned to that as a child. I just didn’t like the liver and onions and I didn’t like the traditional gender roles I saw. I was always conflicted growing up. But I think in my resistance I missed some things. My grandmother wasn’t just being a dutiful wife, she was showing her love. And there’s some regret there, in not learning to show love in the way my grandmother did.”

Why I Can’t Eat my Grandmother’s Fried Liver and Onions
(After Natalie Diaz)

Even now I can’t look at it. Be in the same room as that stench.
The sliced onions sizzle when they hit the pan, curling and blackening
at their tips. The raw block of organ resting on the counter.
My grandmother wipes away the blood that seeped onto the cutting board.

I want to sit at the table with my grandpa as my grandmother continues
to prepare his favorite dish. Because he loves it, now we all have to eat it.
My parents are always telling me I need to learn to be grateful, never
allowing me room to sit in my disappointment that now we are housed
in my grandparent’s basement. Dad couldn’t afford the duplex.

Maybe it’s the way Dad tells me to get into the kitchen, mija.
“Learn something para tu esposo.” that sets me off. I need to stand
there and watch as grandma cuts the cebolla. Watch how she cleans
all the dishes. Learn the way she plates the meal, serves grandpa,
make sure he eats first. Cleans up after him. Gives him a beer, a napkin
to wipe the meal from his mouth.

I resist. I refuse to watch. To clean. I won’t iron my father’s shirts.
Won’t brush my hair. Or wear big hoop earrings. I won’t eat my
grandmother’s liver and onions. No one cares about my hunger strike.
My tia says “maybe we’ve let you be who you are too freely. We love
you but you cannot get up from the table until you eat.”

My lover begs me to try one more time. I’m missing out on so much.
Foie gras, pate, liver dumplings at the new age restaurant we have
a reservation for. And because I love her, I say I will try after decades
of resistance. At Nancy’s I play with the fancy napkins. Sip the water
and hope the waiter never comes.

But he does and she eagerly orders the liver dumplings first. He saves me.
Says, “I’m so sorry, we just took that off our menu.” She looks downcast.
As if I failed a major test, as if this was on purpose. I don’t understand her
fixation on making me eat things I don’t like. We order unplanned things
off the menu. There is a still air between us. She’s going to leave me soon
but I don’t know that yet. If only I’d learned how to keep a husband,
I could have kept her.

Vanessa Escobar

Vanessa Escobar is a 32-year-old queer Latinx poet living the corporate America life but always dreaming of something more. She’s in love with the city of Houston despite no desire to live in the South. She has a nefarious, escape artist dog named Stella and is currently at work on her first book of poems. You can find her at escobarvanessa.com.

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