Umami

She liked to try new things at the stove,
at night after most of the family had gone
to bed— Once, a Scandinavian recipe for black

pepper cookies. Still awake, reviewing for a test,
I got to taste them after they came out of the oven:
thin discs with a surprising woody edge of heat

that flared against a canvas of milk and sweet
butter. Another time, a cache of fermented fish
and rice— catfish, perch, or mudfish—

she’d hidden away in the cupboard for seven
days. It was storming when she took it out to cook
with garlic and red onions in a skillet: aroma

of vinegar mingled with flowered yeast;
while outside, metallic rain soaked through dry
earth and grass. As lightning ionizes the air

to fix nitrogen oxides, so my taste buds
are forever harnessed to this knowledge she
passed on to me: how flavors are more

complex when they’re swirled together,
how salty and sweet and hot and bitter build
the most memorable hit in the mouth.

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