two dozen tamales

weedThe night before we load Derby for a market show, I shovel my driveway, building a clean path. Piles of discarded snow accumulated over three months serve as bunkers lining the drive, the walk. Derby is parked akimbo, on top of the snowdrift that will overtake everything without Derby there. Akimbo, a vehicle without hips and elbows, but still—imagine the steep slant, each tire gaining purchase on the crusty drift.

My shovel and breath are the only sounds on the dead-end street. A street light illuminates falling snow until motion sensors detect my movement and then the light turns off.  It should be the other way: Sense motion, turn on; Sense stillness, turn off. But no, I shovel in the dark, staying ahead of the snowfall. The scrap of blade is soothing, rhythmic. Between strokes, a trace of train whistle reaches me from the distant river valley. I welcome this dark calm, accepting that it stays as long as I keep moving.


Before we would believe in the cave, the  desert mountain was removed slope by slope until only the interior remained.  This from the autobiography of Richard Rodriguez, Darling. I hope he will tell me that when we ask for proof, we destroy the proof in the process. But I’m only on the second chapter.


We, my daughter and I, fill Derby with Whitewash product for the fundraiser at the south side community center.  We set up next to the tall Crow Indian whose slow booming, chanty voice warms the gym we are in. Rabbit is an artist; his tables spread with deep blue and red blankets abut our table of purple, green and burgundy.

We bring an old vertical bread box from home. It stores the dog biscuits and now the pups are confused. Where has the bread box gone? Now it is on a table in a gym with Whitewash magnets on it. The male vendors have their eyes on this box. One by one, they stop by to see if it still functions. Oh yes, it does. The turquoise knob turning to unlock the creamy white metal box. Even after Beth dropped it in the snowy street hauling it indoors. I had just stepped out of the gym to unload more from Derby and could hear her laughter muffled by the naked elm trees lining the boulevard. Stars blinking, bending down to look. An empty bread box lying in the street.

We haul it in, fresh sparkly Hollywood snow wedged in its cracks. We know how to fix it- it’s the one thing we always drop. Tonight with the snow falling outside, we kneel and open our boxes of pendants and scarves, welcoming the center’s teachers to an early look. Hands dive in. Decisions are quick. Purchases are bagged and stored for tomorrow when they will return to pay us in cash or fresh-made tamales.

Tomorrow: we’ll be slow to notice a power outlet six feet up the wall, an electronic cigarette charging, the charger glowing red. Tomorrow: Rabbit, the Crow artist, changing his outside hat for his inside hat, which is wrapped in two plastic grocery bags. China bells ringing across the gym. A donated organ hauled in through the back doors, the furnace blowing, table clothes flapping. A two-fingered Ode to Joy.

Our pendants sell one by one, two by two. Dennis, the kind janitor, is nearly moved to tears when he purchases Divine, a gift for his struggling daughter.  Three times we are asked if we have any Hope pendants. Our customers don’t know we try not to do hope. We offer instead, Let A Little Dust Fall. A version of acceptance, we suggest.

In the distance we notice the vendor who had arrived late, borrowed price stickers from us, a pen from the tamale-makers. She tucks her head in the pink purse on her lap. Faint puffs of smoke result. She’s been trying to quit she tells us when we stop by to visit. The electronic cigarette helps until it doesn’t help anymore. When it rains it pours and you start smoking again and then you go on Xanax. We buy three 1946 Life magazines displayed on her empty Girl Scout cookie box. They are in fair condition, carrying the attic scent of cardboard box, a hint of sidewalk snow.

Rabbit wants to trade one of his prints for one of our collages. Every time he returns to his booth, he counts his paintings. He started with thirty-six and after our trade he is down to twenty-nine. We buy three raffle tickets for a chance to win one of his paintings at a fundraiser being held in April. Don’t worry, he tells us, it will be on the up and up. A security guard will pick the winning ticket.

The desert is the water’s fossil.

Pork tamales in the morning, Indian tacos for lunch. The lady running the antique booth next to the kitchen calls each of us Honey. We know whenever her booth is empty of customers because she walks over to the organ beneath the basketball hoop and plays Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater with her knuckles. Out in the hallway, the children are running a bake sale. Everything costs one dollar. One cookie, one dollar. One full loaf of banana bread, one dollar.  No one buys the organ, but the banana bread sells out.


About redmitten

author of Cracking Geodes Open, Making Good Use of August, and The Peppermint Bottle. poetry editor for IthacaLit. website:

3 responses to “two dozen tamales

  1. Pingback: notes while waiting to decide how long to leave the ashes on my forehead | too much august not enough snow

  2. So, I started with your Ashes post, hoping for an answer and linked to here. Ended up hungry with all the talk of food. Always picture Derby as a mule. You know it was really cruel of you to take that bread box?

    • redmitten

      ha! derby as a mule. you have no idea how much that means to me as i am so fond of mules and burros. someone once told me he thought i was always talking about a hat . . .(!) that bread box is marvelous and the pups count on the sound of its latch unlatching because it means i am unlocking the dog biscuits. so yes- a little cruel.

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