The Ghost in Your Kitchen
Lately, I’ve been thinking about food. More specifically, how food relates to grief and my relationship with the two as a unified concept.
Food is an important thing in my family. Some of us don’t like to cook, others are terrible, but it’s something that we do every once in a while as a family. There are recipes that have been passed down from mother to daughter and down and down and down until I see my own mother make something that she remembers having as a child, that her mother remembered having.
Because of this relationship that I have with food, it tends to bring up a lot of emotion if I’m making something tangled together with memories. My food is an extension of my emotional state. And I tend to think about the past when making it.
It’s healing. It allows me to work through the complicated relationships I have with family, especially those who are no longer around for me to try and grapple with in person. It’s a safe space for me to grieve and settle into a state where I can mourn the loss of a relationship that went beyond simply good or bad.
There are moments when I’m cooking where all I can think of is the bad that someone brought into my life. How a certain smell reminds me of all the pain they caused. How the color of a tomato reminds me of shouting matches and cruelly flung words and disappointment.
And then the same meal on a different day of the week reminds me of our best days. The days where everything felt right and everything was normal and none of the bad that permeated the relationship was going to color anything ever again.
It’s a strange state. But I’ve accepted that it’s human. That you’re allowed to grieve over someone for who they were and who they are and who they had the potential to be. You’re allowed to remember the good and bad of a relationship and feel those presence equally in your space. You can heal and remember and grapple with the concept that you can love and not love someone as you remember them. You will have happy and unhappy memories when you feel them near you. Maybe your grief means allowing the memories to haunt your space from time to time. Maybe it means there’s a ghost in your kitchen every few weeks. I just don’t let the ghost overtake me.
Writing the poem below allowed me to put the feeling of being haunted by grief and all the complications that come with that when the ghost in your kitchen wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine. Maybe you have a ghost in your kitchen too. Take peace and solace when you need to. Be gentle with yourself and your grief.
on making a meal
fill the stockpot with water
bring to a boil
rolling gently rolling
over the hard edges
of your father’s mouth
landing on blistered skin
embedding in your tender lungs
blink away the sting
of onions meat garlic chiles
try not to catch your thumb on the edge
of the knife
down the ridges
of your wrist you
sunday treat coating
your hands to keep him
laughing smile wide
and bright green
tomatillos cilantro poblanos blended smooth
thickened with bread freshly
snatched from my mouth
by quick fingers counting calories
like he did my fingers and toes
test the broth
cupped in the hollow of your palms
steam curling around your nose droplets settling on your skin
from the heavy heat of a thousand bodies
for your favorite park ride
the way he taught you
carry the weight
of a dozen filled bowls
four hands moving back
on a loop now broken in half
wait and watch him
place the only half filled bowl at your table setting
before sitting next to you
wait and sit
next to a now always empty chair
and watch your hands
place a full dish at your setting
Isabella is a writer with a focus on the culture/superstition of a Mexican household and how that relates to sexuality, gender dynamics, and grief/trauma.
Raised in Southern California by Mexican parents and grandparents, the magic and eccentricities of her culture were a part of her everyday life. With food and family being such an important part of her life, she found herself gravitating toward kitchen witch practices.
You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @izellerbach or her website.