I cut two strips of bacon into inch-long pieces and brown them over medium heat in the bottom of a deep pan. After draining the grease, I remove the crisp bacon and add two pieces of boneless pork chop, cubed, and a diced onion with a couple of teaspoons of water to de-glaze the pan. I finely mince a clove of garlic and toss that in the mix with a liberal dusting of salt and pepper. The pork begins to brown, the onion softens, the bacon returns and brings salty smokiness to the mélange. A hearty aroma fills the kitchen. I came here to escape, or rather find distraction.
Grief finds its way like water, obeying the gravity of the heart and wending its way toward pools, cracks and crevices I didn’t know existed in my chest. It trickles and gathers into streams. Grief accumulates slow and steady as rainwater in a barrel. It forms puddles in the backyard of my life hidden behind fences. At times, it overflows, spills across the landscape, and floods my foundation. Grief seeps deep, undeniable. Grief, like water, doesn’t truly disappear. It may pull back and ebb or evaporate, but its power and presence inevitably returns to remind me of love and loss and longing.
To the pot, I add diced red and orange mini bell pepper, onion, and poblano pepper that had been sauteed previously until caramelized. In goes half a bottle of salsa verde and juice squeezed firmly from a lime like the playful pinch of a lover. Two cans each of white hominy, golden hominy (maize) and northern white beans fill the pot along with enough water to form a broth for the posole.
It’s only later that I realize that I’m making a bastardized version of posole, the traditional Mexican soup or stew that takes different forms depending on the region, ingredients and hand of the cook. Posole, which means hominy, typically includes its namesake ingredient and pork, chilies and other ingredients. Hominy is made from whole corn kernels that are large and tough. The kernels are soaked in a lye or lime solution to break down the outer hulls and then washed to remove the excess solution and hull. The kernels swell in size. When used in soup or stew, the hominy thickens the broth. For the sake of time, I used canned, precooked hominy rather than cooking it from scratch.
This weekend I sensed that the grief welling inside me had been there for a long time. The news of a friend whose wife unexpectedly died this weekend triggered the outpouring of my own sense of loss, a heaviness that soaked my head, heart and soul. My grief is the residue of a long-term relationship that suddenly ended in swift, brutal, unilateral fashion in spring. My grief and loss has no connection to my friend’s recent loss or to the loss others have experienced and continue to live with and bear.
Each instance of grief is its own puzzle, its own pattern of raindrops. The assembly of grief, long after public, shared mourning, finds a watershed that is private and solitary, hidden away from handshakes and hugs and the tedium of busy lives. Grief offers no consolation or replacement for that which prompted it. It is a river that carries its unwilling passenger from one point of departure to another unknown port.
My pervasive feeling of loss, this particular grief, is different. She lives. The connections to her and the kids and pets and intertwined rhythms of life have been severed. It’s too complicated and personal to explain here. It’s my own puzzle. Changes in seasons, holidays, or simply subtle, unexpected reminders of what once was, all of these and other reminders, open pathways for grief to flow as water finding the path of least resistance.
The pot of posole smells good.
I am not a recipe follower. I improvise and adapt, using ingredients on hand, techniques learned and skills honed. The posole’s ingredients blend and unite into something greater as a whole. I add more salt, pepper and water, some garlic powder, sage and dried oregano. The broth is savory, tangy, earthy. The kernels of hominy have absorbed the salt and acid. Perhaps they might swallow my grief.
The posole is ready.
Grief has no recipe. It is part of life, itself a cycle of gift and loss with pathways and patterns that make no sense at times. Grief is an ocean unbound by the Kübler-Ross model for emotional stages, those ports in the storm that seem to be part of an itinerary, a planned passage with navigation points ever present as stars against a dark sky. Yet, grief is raw and elemental as the ocean, as life, and navigation takes its own course defiant of charts and time, indifferent to obligations and expectations.
I cook the way that I live and the way that I grieve seems to follow, without recipe, so I adapt and improvise. I do the best that I can. I allow myself to feel quietly, and plunge into the unknown of the next moment, the day ahead.
I fill a bowl with steaming posole and sprinkle chopped cilantro on top. The herb’s stems and leaves release its distinctive grassy scent, a last whiff of life as microscopic cells are cooked in the rich, savory ocean of broth.
This weekend’s company of friends and comrades, the lure of fire and smoke, craft beer and caffeine, art and attraction, writing and conversation, none of it sufficed as a bulwalk against a rising tide of grief. However, they are reminders of here and now, that life is relentless whether I participate or not. The activity and camaraderie were never meant to protect me from grief that floods my emotions. The grief is an inner sea. When my pillow offered no comfort, and sleep provided no respite, and grief rose in waves, I bathed in it and baptized myself.
This afternoon I rose, felt hunger, and entered the kitchen. With grief ever present, I began to cook with pork, beans and hominy. To cook, and then to eat, is an act of sustenance. I needed to cook not merely to feed myself but to gain ground in the healing process until grief subsides for a time.
Other people steeped in research and cultural heritage have written that corn, such as maize or hominy, was a sacred plant to the Aztecs and people of Mesoamerica. Posole, an ancient dish with ties to human sacrifice, was prepared for special religious feasts meant to honor the gods. Unwittingly, or perhaps through instinct, I needed to make this dish as a ritual sacrifice, to feed body and soul, gain strength and seek higher ground for a view beyond the horizon of grief.
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