July 16, 2014
A poem in memory of Artemisa Salinas (1932–2011)
The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences.
—Seng-T'san, the 3rd Patriarch
I got a Zen friend eats vegetarian at MacDonald's sometimes. He likes the cheap coffee. He says, "Don't be a snob, Bobby. What difference does it make?" And he gives me a wise Buddhist smile.
I tell my friend if I'm going to eat fast food, then I'm going to eat at some local place. Like the H&H Carwash over on Yandell. The Haddads own the place, Kenny and Maynard. 4th generation Lebanese Christian immigrants. Both right wingers, but they leave me alone.
I tell my friend that the 3rd Patriarch eats there too. He likes the spinning stools at the counter. He's a vegetarian too so he orders the chili relleno plate. It's way too much food of course. He wants just enough, so he takes his leftovers to the bum in the alley.
The bum's name is Chuy, short for Jesus. Kenny doesn't like the 3rd Patriarch feeding Chuy. "It's like attracting flies," Kenny says. Seng-T'san smiles at Kenny's rant but he will do as he pleases. Chuy needs to eat. "Yeah, yeah," Kenny says and walks away.
The rellenos are delicious as always. Likewise the refried beans and fried potatoes. A couple of tortillas de maiz. On the side a glass of water and a cup of coffee.
Seng-T'san is no dummy. Gloria the cook fries the rellenos and everything else in a little bit of lard. Oh well. He eats what's set before him. Gloria is a tiny woman, and she comes from across the border to cook our rellenos. Seng-T'san smiles at Gloria, his hands in gassho.
Then he gives thanks to all the other many beings who have brought this food to his table. Even the pig who provided the lard. In his thanksgiving he saves Artemisa the waitress for last. She's his favorite and he understands deeply he's not supposed to have favorites. But Artemisa has such a beautiful big smile.
She says "De nada" and "Quieres más?" She always pours extra coffee to keep his cup warm and makes sure everything is perfect. Then she leaves him alone while he eats. She likes gringos okay and a Chinaman is just another kind of gringo. This one eats everything and always leaves a big tip.
The coffee is lousy but that's okay.
Bobby Byrd grew up in Memphis, Tennessee but moved to the Southwest to attend college at the University of Arizona. He has lived in the region ever since. His many books of poetry include Pomegranates, The Price of Doing Business in Mexico, and Dead Friends & Other Bits & Pieces of Love. He and his wife, Lee Merrill Byrd, are the cofounders of Cinco Puntos Press.
From Otherwise, My Life is Ordinary (2014) by Bobby Byrd. With permission of Cinco Puntos Press, El Paso, Texas. www.cincopuntos.com
Image: By Lee Merrill Byrd, courtesy of Cinco Puntos Press.