menudo by james
menudo
by Richard Vargas

i remember the morning
car ride to the Compton
neighborhood market
just the two of us
my dad would walk in
carrying the empty pot and lid
set it on the counter and ask
for it to be filled with our
sunday morning breakfast
while he picked up a package
of warm corn tortillas
i checked out the colorful
piñatas and sweet-smelling
pan dulce still warm from the oven

he would notice and buy a few
conchas and fruit-filled empanadas
watch the smile light up my face
the drive home was slow and gentle
making sure we didn’t spill
any of our orange-red bounty

i never cared for the oregano
but a squeeze of lemon
a spoonful of chopped onion
and a warm tortilla rolled up
in my small fist

planted the seed
for this poem to bloom

PHOTO: Menudo Rojo by James.

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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Menudo is one of those signature dishes that becomes a cultural icon for the place and people where it originates. The flavorful mix of tripe and hominy isn’t for everyone—you might say it is an acquired taste. And, yes, I know from experience that it is one of those “best cure for a hangover” remedies that gets passed on from generation to generation. Saturdays were for washing my dad’s lowered Chevy and cruising downtown, but Sunday morning’s ritual was picking up a pot of menudo and enjoying its aromas and steamy goodness around the kitchen table. These days I won’t hesitate to heat up a can of Juanita’s Spicy Menudo (only occasionally, since the salt content is enough to give an elephant a stroke), chop up some onion and cilantro, slice up a fresh lime, warm up some corn tortillas, grab a cold Modelo Negra, and watch the Sunday morning NFL pregame shows. Then, I raise my beer and toast my dad, wherever his spirit may be.

PHOTO: The author at age six months with his father.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Richard Vargas was born in Compton, California. He earned his B.A. at Cal State University, Long Beach, where he studied under Gerald Locklin. He edited/published five issues of The Tequila Review, 1978-1980, publishing early works by Jimmy Santiago Baca, Alberto Rios, Nila Northsun, and many more. His first book, McLife, was featured twice, during Feb 2006, on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. A second book, American Jesus, was published by Tia Chucha Press, 2007. His third book, Guernica, revisited, was published in April 2014 by Press 53, and was featured once more on the Writer’s Almanac. Vargas received his MFA from the University of New Mexico, 2010, where he workshopped his poetry with Joy Harjo. He was recipient of the 2011 Taos Summer Writers’ Conference’s Hispanic Writer Award, was on the faculty of the 2012 10th National Latino Writers Conference, and facilitated a workshop at the 2015 Taos Summer Writers’ Conference. Vargas also edited/published The Más Tequila Review from 2009-2015, featuring poets from across the country. His poetry continues to appear in poetry journals and anthologies, while his fourth book, How A Civilization Begins, MouthFeel Press, will be released on Sept 8, 2022. Currently, he resides in Wisconsin, near the lake where Otis Redding’s plane crashed. Visit him at richardvargaspoet.com.