What the mouth remembers

I’ve never understood the expression Soup
to nuts
— I know it means from start to finish,

but never in my life have I had a meal that resolved
with nuts. On father’s insistence, we always had

broth to begin the meal, and some kind of modest
dessert at the end: bananas (the small, sweet

variety), a saucerful of thin, store-bought wafers
with an insinuation of cream; a “digestive” biscuit.

In better times, a slice of cake and scoop of ice
cream doled out in small footed crystal glasses.

In between, the everyday parade of dishes learned
by heart: rice, some slimy vegetable swimming in more

broth; or chicken in pepper leaves, fish soured
with guava or tamarind. I learned the many forms

of bean: flat, winged, thick as paste, laced with brine.
Ridged circles of bitter melon, the smoky undertone

of long peppers curling in the blood stew. Away from home,
the tongue remembers what it was taught of old riches,

rituals. Rowing through the growing cold in autumn then
in winter, it comes out on the other side of spring,

stretches over the dusty summer. The mouth closes over neat
squares of white bread, the unctuousness of butter. It chews

and swallows, wanting more, seeking the missing note: what
flesh knew of itself before it was cut and thrown to the world.

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