Señora Ortega’s Frijoles, a story of family sayings and kitchen wisdom

A bowl of frijoles negros courtesy of Badagnani under CC BY 3.0 license.

In the tradition of Señora Ortega’s own madre, la cocina was a place of teaching — about food, about life, about being a woman, about being human.



Her fate was set when she fell under the spell of his kind eyes and bigger than life personality. For his part, he loved her gentle ways, the fluid dance of her hands at work, the sensual swing of her hips as she walked to the market with basket in hand.

And so it happened that in 1948, with her father’s permission and her mother’s tears, they were wed in the old adobe iglesia where uncounted generations of her family had been married before her. Not many months after the wedding, she kissed her parents and siblings goodbye, took a long loving look at her village, and followed her new husband north to los Estados Unidos de América. She was already pregnant with Clarita. 

The complete story is HERE. Enjoy!


Jamie Dedes. I’m a freelance writer, poet, content editor, and blogger. I also manage The BeZine and its associated activities and The Poet by Day jamiededes.com, an info hub for writers meant to encourage good but lesser-known poets, women and minority poets, outsider artists, and artists just finding their voices in maturity. The Poet by Day is dedicated to supporting freedom of artistic expression and human rights and encourages activist poetry.  Email thepoetbyday@gmail.com for permissions, commissions, or assignments.

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Recent and Upcoming in Digital Publications: Five by Jamie Dedes on The World Literature Blog,  Jamie Dedes, Versifier of Truth, Womawords Literary Press, November 19, How 100,000 Poets Are Fostering Peace, Justice, and Sustainability, YOPP! * The Damask Garden, In a Woman’s Voice, August 11, 2019 / This short story is dedicated to all refugees. That would be one in every 113 people. * Five poems, Spirit of Nature, Opa Anthology of Poetry, 2019 * From the Small Beginning, Entropy Magazine (Enclave, #Final Poems), July 2019 * Over His Morning Coffee, Front Porch Review, July 2019 * Three poems, Our Poetry Archive, September 2019


“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton

Off the Trail of Consumer Capitalism, flash fiction by Michael Dickel

This is an except from the September issue of The BeZine, themed social justice. It is another example of the quality of work we share there. It’s also an important story at this time and Michael explains why.  / J.D.


Michael Dickel (c) 2018, Photo credit Zaki Qutteineh

Off the trail

Author’s note: Originally written in July, 2013, this piece seems even more relevant and urgent 5 years later. It originally appeared here, on Meta/ Phor(e) /Play. A revised version appears in my flash fiction collection, The Toad’s Garden after The Palm Reading. This version has been slightly edited, most significantly to add the word “consumer” to modify capitalism, as the term “consumer capitalism” has come to my attention as one bandied about in place of democracy as the essential system of the United States (and promoted by some on the so-called “Christian” Right, although from my perspective, that political group seems neither Christian nor right…). The line about the great purges goes back to 2013, but we now see something like them beginning to form…

 


By chance I learned that they planned to crucify the married couple for honeymooning off the grid and outside of the mainstream consumer economy. The couple backpacked along the Appalachian Trail, using second-hand equipment, carrying home-prepared dried goods for meals , which friends provided to them as gifts.

The followers of Christ, Consumer-Capitalist, found such sacrilege untenable, especially in light of the anger it would cause the Corporate Lords of the Boardrooms.

I overheard my editor on his cell, assigning someone to cover the Meeting of Judgment where the sentence would be pronounced. When I understood that the other reporter wouldn’t be back from her current assignment in time, I sauntered in and asked what Ed had for me, like I didn’t know anything.

“The Reverend called to request we send someone to this meeting, give it coverage to send the message out. Work, spend, play inside the economy.”

“Got it. Keep the money flowing to oil the consumer capitalism machinery of wealth.”

I knew the catechism, but didn’t believe it. I’d sent dried lemon peels, home-made penne (dried to preserve it), a chunk of parmigiana traded on the underground market, and a sealed container of pesto for them to make a backpacker’s lemon pasta.

 


 

The Meeting of Judgment followed the usual pattern of these religious courts. A minister of the Reverend’s flock read out the charges. Two other ministers sat on either side, listening gravely. They conferred briefly. It didn’t matter that the accused even now were somewhere hiking in the woods.

As per custom, the ushers served cups of tea to the witnesses of the Meeting. We remained silent. I sipped a sad orange-pekoe until the lead minister announced the decision.

Crucifixion. It had come back in style around 2020, shortly after the great purges that deported, jailed, or enslaved first the non-Christians, then the wrong-type of Christians.

I had not seen a crucifixion. Up to now, it had been an advantage of a rural assignment.

“What are you going to do?” The man I knew as Germaine asked me. He’d popped up out of the crowd as I pushed out the door.

I’d seen Germaine at several social gatherings of people like me. My circles went along with the Reverend to a point, that is, enough to survive, and no more. We kept to ourselves, and tried to avoid the scrutiny of the Reverend and his ministers.

“Do? I’ll write a story about the Judgment, the reasons for it, and watch to see how many hits it gets on the Screens.”

I didn’t know Germaine enough to be baited into saying something damaging. Besides, that was what I planned to do.

“No, about them. We can’t let them get caught.”

“You could get crucified yourself for getting involved. Even what you said is a crime against Christian Consumer Capitalism.”

“What is Christian Capitalism? Something made up by corporate overlords who overeat from our consumption. There never was such a religion.”

I walked away. I considered whether he might be an agent provocateur, meaning I should report him before he denounced me for doing nothing. I decided that I didn’t want to get involved, and would invoke my sometime role as investigative reporter should he accuse me.

 


 

The next morning I had coffee with Frank, someone I thought I knew enough to trust under most circumstances. He told me that Germaine had been arrested for sedition, blasphemy, and heresy as a result of spouting the Devil’s own socialism.

“I’ll be damned.”

“Probably,” Frank said. “To tell you the truth, I thought he was a spy.”

After Frank went off to work, I looked for a screen-story on Germaine, but didn’t find one. I wondered how Frank had heard.

I read my own story on my screen, instead. It played well, several hits, re-posts, and praiseful comments.

It bored me. No, more than that, it sickened me.

I didn’t believe any of it. I knew the young couple, knew they loved the woods, knew they couldn’t afford a resort honeymoon because they wanted to buy a house and the downpayment would take everything they had.

They actually wanted to fit in and had no revolutionary or irreligious intent. They wanted to get along, but to also live their lives and not be pulled under the tide of consumer debt.

Just then, I realized that the Reverend and the ministers didn’t care. And maybe Frank didn’t read about Germaine on a screen.

 


 

The Reverend wanted to make a statement, keep people scared, keep people trying harder than ever to feed the economy and concentrate power and wealth into the Corporate Lords, who ran the Reverend.

Or maybe the other way around, the Reverend ran them. It doesn’t matter now, I realize.

Frank wanted me to play along and keep away from people like Germaine. It was almost a friendly gesture. It could have been a warning, even.

 


 

And that’s why I find myself sitting in a deer stand along the Appalachian Trail. The newlyweds should pass under it sometime today, if they haven’t yet been waylaid.

When they do, I’ll wait to see if they find the package I left out.

It has printouts of the screen story I wrote. It has a copy of the Judgment Decree. It has a map of little-known trails that cross this path, and what cash I could withdraw without getting stopped by a minister.

I thought that I would watch them pick it up and wait until they were gone, then make my way home after a few stops to justify my travel, should I get checked.

Now, I’m thinking maybe I’ll ask if I can walk with them a while when they go off the trail. I’ll cut out after a few days, find my own way.

I don’t know why I’ve decided to do this. I just don’t feel like writing another story I don’t believe in, I guess.

—Michael Dickel ©2018, 2017, 2013

20130729-230444.jpg

 


MICHAEL DICKEL a poet, fiction writer, and photographer, has taught at various colleges and universities in Israel and the United States. Dickel’s writing, art, and photographs appear in print and online. His poetry has won international awards and been translated into several languages. His chapbook, Breakfast at the End of Capitalism came out from Locofo Chaps in 2017. Is a Rose Press released his most recent full-length book (flash fiction), The Palm Reading after The Toad’s Garden, in 2016. Previous books: War Surrounds Us, Midwest / Mid-East, and The World Behind It, Chaos… He co-edited Voices Israel Volume 36(2010). He was managing editor for arc-23 and arc-24. With producer / director David Fisher, he received an NEH grant to write a film script about Yiddish theatre. He is the former chair of the Israel Association of Writers in English. Meta/ Phor(e) /Play is Michael’s blogZine. Michael on Social Media: Twitter | FaceBook Page | Instagram | Academia


ABOUT

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Poet and writer, I was once columnist and associate editor of a regional employment publication. Currently I run this site, The Poet by Day, an information hub for poets and writers. I am the managing editor of The BeZine published by The Bardo Group Beguines (originally The Bardo Group), a virtual arts collective I founded. I am a weekly contributor to Beguine Again, a site showcasing spiritual writers.

My work is featured in a variety of publications and on sites, including: Levure littéraure, Ramingo’s Porch, Vita Brevis Literature,Compass Rose, Connotation Press, The Bar None Group, Salamander Cove, Second Light, I Am Not a Silent Poet, Meta / Phor(e) /Play, and California Woman.

EDWARD BUNKER PRIZE IN FICTION to Celebrate Literary Excellence by Writers in Prison; The Prison Writer Awards

PEN America nonprofit logo under

Last week PEN America announced the launch of the PEN/Edward Bunker Prize in Fiction. This to honor the legacy of the famed crime fiction author and screenwriter. The PEN/Bunker Prize will celebrate short works in fiction by writers who are currently incarcerated and will be presented for the first time as part of the PEN America’s 2019 Prison Writing Awards.

Public domain photograph of Edward Bunker taken at an unknown California prison.

EDWARD BUNKER, who became a prolific writer while incarcerated, leveraged the power of the writing process to reinvent himself into the iconic storyteller author and screenwriter we know today. Celebrated for conceiving some of the most gripping crime stories of our time, he penned numerous books, collaborated with celebrity A-listers like Quentin Tarantino and Danny Trejo, was a screenwriter on Straight Time (1978), Runaway Train (1985) and Animal Factory (2000), and acted alongside Hollywood elite in films such as The Running Man, Tango & Cash, and Reservoir Dogs. Thirteen years after his death, his legacy and the transformative power of writing continues through his family’s support of the PEN America Prison Writing Program.

In addition to a cash prize, each recipient will be paired with a writing mentor and given a clear Swintec typewriter—the only typewriter allowed in U.S. prisons, and the one used by Edward Bunker when he first began to write.

“Eddie Bunker’s inspirational legacy is threaded through the hundreds of submissions that pour into PEN America’s Prison Writing Awards each year,” said Caits Meissner, PEN America Prison and Justice Writing Program manager. “Like Eddie, our writers use the written word to expose the painful aspects of incarceration, as well as offer up moments of triumphant humanity that shine light into dark spaces. Thirteen years after his passing, we’re incredibly grateful for the opportunity to continue Eddie’s legacy of transformative writing with his family’s generous support of our program.”

“The Bunker prize is a perfect match for what PEN America is doing with the Prison and Justice Program—reaching out to prisoners who have turned to writing as a salvation, and hopefully a future. I wanted to bring hope and inspiration to those important voices out there that have value and need to be heard. And just as importantly, because our son, Brendan Bunker, sees this as one more way to keep his father and his work immortalized,” said Jennifer Steele, wife of Eddie Bunker.

PEN America’s Prison Writing Program, founded in 1971 in the wake of the Attica riots, advances the restorative, rehabilitative, and transformative possibilities of writing, and has offered many thousands of incarcerated writers free writing resources, skilled mentors, and audiences for their work. A hallmark of the program is the PEN America Prison Writing Awards, which recognizes works by incarcerated writers in poetry, fiction, drama, nonfiction, and memoir.

The crowded living quarters of San Quentin Prison in California, in January 2006. As a result of overcrowding in the California state prison system, the United States Supreme Court ordered California to reduce its prison population (the second largest in the nation, after Texas). Public domain photograph

Every year hundreds of imprisoned writers from around the country submit poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and dramatic works to the Prison Writing Awards, one of the few outlets of free expression for the country’s incarcerated population.

This month, the first print anthology of award-winning works from the Prison Writing Awards will be published. And, yesterday, September 13, PEN America presented Break Out: Voices from the Inside at the Brooklyn Book Festival, featuring readings and artistic interpretations of works by incarcerated writers, staged by prominent authors on the outside. This is part of a series of events centered on mass incarceration and writers in prison. For more information visit the events calendar.

***

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. It champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Its mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.


ABOUT

Poet and writer, I was once columnist and associate editor of a regional employment publication. Currently I run this site, The Poet by Day, an information hub for poets and writers. I am the managing editor of The BeZine published by The Bardo Group Beguines (originally The Bardo Group), a virtual arts collective I founded.  I am a weekly contributor to Beguine Again, a site showcasing spiritual writers.

My work is featured in a variety of publications and on sites, including: Levure littéraure, Ramingo’s PorchVita Brevis Literature,Compass Rose, Connotation PressThe Bar None GroupSalamander CoveSecond LightI Am Not a Silent PoetMeta / Phor(e) /Play, and California Woman.

Charlie’s Legacy, a short short-story for the day

As he settled near me on the park bench, I caught his scent: whisky, unbrushed teeth and unwashed clothes. Dirty nails poked through the frayed fingers of his wool gloves. At first he just sat there, happy for the company, enjoying the muffled sound of foghorns in the distance and the rhythmic music of waves hitting the seawall below. “Snow’s coming,” Charlie said, more to himself then me. He freed a bottle from his jacket pocket, opened it and drank. Except for knowing it wasn’t good for him, I didn’t mind his drinking. Charlie was my friend.

He asked what I was reading. It was part of our ritual. I pulled the book from my schoolbag. I thought it was just a girls’ book, but he’d read it too. That was Charlie. Was there anything he hadn’t read? I wondered. He quizzed me, another part of our ritual. “What does Johnny’s singing represent? Why was reading and writing important to Francie?” Charlie would go on and on like that with a cascade of questions about every book.

“Now you want to be a writer,” Charlie said one day, in affirmation not question. It was huge that I could talk with Charlie about my big dream, something I would never dare share with my parents. My mom and dad said they wanted “stable” careers for their kids. I was sure that writing wasn’t stable and that stable meant boring. Writing seemed to hold the promise of freeform and full of surprises. Besides, there’s nothing better than a good story.

Whenever I was with Charlie I lost track of time but as the chill in the air deepened and the sky began to go dark, I realized it was getting late. It was Friday and my mom thought I was at the library, which closed at four-thirty on Fridays. “Don’t worry your mom and dad,” Charlie said, suggesting that I leave for home. As I left the park I turned to look back at him. He was watching me. He smiled and I smiled and waved. A wash of sadness passed through me. I shrugged it off to the cold air whispering of transitions. Summer over. Fall passing through. Winter on its way.

*****

Our apartment back then made me think of railroads. The rooms were laid out in sequence on the left of a long hallway. My parents’ room came first and the bathroom next. These were followed by the bedroom I shared with my older sister, Serena, and Mighty Manfred, our ancient Yorkie. Then came my mom’s alchemical kitchen and finally our living room, which had windows on two sides, left and back. At night the living room doubled as my kid brother’s bedroom. With the addition of folding card-tables and chairs, it morphed into a dining room when we had company.

During the day my dad sold appliances and two nights a week he went to college on his GI loan. When it wasn’t a school night, he was home for dinner and encouraged us to talk about our day. With Joey it was all science and math and with Serena it was religion. For me it was English. My dad knew I was reading and getting ready to write a report on A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. He asked me almost the same questions that Charlie had. Every year Dad would read all the books on my required reading list. If it happened that he’d already read them, he’d read them again “to refresh my memory,” he’d say. He would grill me on the fine points. He was relentless.

For my mom’s part, she turned budget-wise groceries into food good enough to tempt even my minimalist appetite. All that summer and fall, I’d been stealing from her stash of leftover dinner rolls, tortilla Espanola, fruit and whatnot to take to Charlie. He loved the way my mom made potato salad with a lemony dressing and minced red onions and celery, bits of red and green peppers and oily black olives. “Nothing trite about that salad,” Charlie would say. He smiled over the small Tupperware bowls filled with left-over gazpacho, one of mom’s summer staples to this day.

*****

Monday came round again and after school I waited at our bench for Charlie. He never arrived. He didn’t show on Tuesday either, nor Wednesday or Thursday. I held my breath for Friday. No use. Days and weeks passed. A month. Two months. Midterms. By Thanksgiving I was tortured with worry. I struggled to get up the courage to tell my dad everything and ask him to help me find Charlie. Despite my anxiety, I kept loosing that battle.

The year Charlie disappeared was the same year a blizzard hit our region in mid-November. Thanksgiving, always celebrated at our place, arrived on the wing-tip of a too-early winter. That year my Aunt Tessa brought her new boyfriend for us to meet. His name was Brian James O’Connor, a musician. The guests came dragging in the crisp and cold out-of-doors. It sat on their hats, coats and boots and mingled with the steam hissing from the radiators and the warm scented air from my mom’s kitchen. Warm and cold met in a silent crash that turned into fog on our windows.

Aunt Tessa brought her not-world-famous-but-it-should-be New York cheesecake, “guaranteed to win her a husband,” my dad said. Nana arrived with her monster wooden salad bowl full of vegetables, cheeses, salami, olives and seasoned croutons made from her own homemade bread. Gramp came with his signature ear-to-ear grin and two bottles of Spanish wine, one white and one rosé.

Dad and Joey had already retrieved the tables and chairs from our basement storage locker. I’d pressed the folds out of Mom’s white damask and Serena decorated the tables, which we pushed together in the middle of the living room. Serena had a gift for styling things and had gone early to the park to dig branches and pine cones and other nature gifts out of the snow for a centerpiece. She popped my mom’s little blue votive candles in it here and there. It looked more like Christmas peace than Thanksgiving gratitude, but that was okay.

Joey was crazy about “horsey doovers” and there were lots to munch on as we visited and waited for dinner. I thought of Charlie. I was worried and wished I knew where he was. I’d bring him some of my mom’s turkey and a piece of my Aunt Tessa’s cheesecake.

Finally Mom and Aunt Tessa brought on the big feast. Dad carved the turkey. Nana dressed the salad. Gramp opened the wine. We prepared to go from nibbling hors d’oeuvres to eating in earnest. We were passing the platter of turkey and bowls of mashed potatoes and yams when Aunt Tessa said to my dad, “Diego, didn’t Charlie Aldofierio go to Eisenhower High with you?”

“Yes! He did. Haven’t heard from him in a couple of years though. He disappeared after Daisy and the kid died in that accident. Poor guy. I should make an effort to track him down.”

“You didn’t see his obituary then. It was in last Sunday’s paper. He died the night the storm hit. They found him huddled in the doorway of Baracini’s.”

Something was buzzing.

It started in my ears. It spread to my brain and filled my eyes and all the room.

It took my breath away.

Suddenly, the world was spinning and just as suddenly there was nothing.

*****

The apartment was almost silent. It still smelled like Thanksgiving but it didn’t feel like it. Mom had her arms around me in bed and Dr. Kowalski was sitting on the edge and holding my hand. He looked down at me with a frown. “How are you feeling, little girl?” I looked at him, confused. Then I remembered about Charlie. I started to cry.

I barely noted the looks that passed between my parents. “Yuilia,” my dad said, “Sweetheart, how did you know Charlie?” I told them. I told them how I met Charlie at the park one day last spring when he asked me what I was reading. I told them how we talked four or five times a week and became best friends. I confessed to wanting to write and apologized for disappointing them. It all came out in a jumble of tears and hick-ups and nose blowing. I even confessed to stealing food for Charlie. I heard my mother sigh. She knew about the missing food and puzzled over my apparent need to steal and sneak. She wasn’t mad that I took food to Charlie. In fact, it seemed my parents were glad that I did.

At some point, Aunt Tessa came in with a hot cup of tea. My dad just sat there, his brow furrowed with worry. I think Dr. Kowalski gave me something to sleep. When I woke up again, Serena was fussing with my cover and Daddy was sitting in a chair by the bed. I stayed inside for the rest of the holiday. I didn’t go to church on Sunday and missed the first two-or-three days back to school.

The family hovered. My mom fed me chicken soup with bitter greens and potatoes and lots of onions. My dad talked to me about Charlie and his wife and about the little girl who would be just a few years older than me. Serena read me the rest of Tree. Joey sat at the end of my bed and shared his books and toys, even his much-loved fire truck. Except for food and walks, Mighty Manfred lay glued to my side. His eyes filled with worry and woe.

*****

My dad did a little digging and connecting and found that no memorial service was organized for Charlie. All that was left of his family was his father, Charlie senior. With Mr. Adelfiero’s permission, Dad and the others who’d graduated with Charlie organized a memorial that was held at Charlie senior’s house. Another storm hit on the day the memorial was scheduled. It didn’t keep anyone away. They arrived, school friends, war-time comrades in arms, neighbors and people from church. They arrived in singles and in groups, from a few blocks away and from out-of-state.

Mom, Nana and Aunt Tessa had organized a potluck and Aunt Tessa’s new boyfriend, Brian, volunteered himself and friends to provide chamber music. Raymond MacLaine, also a fellow graduate and by then a Jesuit priest, officiated. One-by-one people shared their memories of Charlie and his wife and child.
Finally, at the end, it was Charlie senior’s turn and mine. Charlie’s dad couldn’t talk for his pain. I took his hand in mine the way I thought Charlie would like me to. I told everyone what a friend Charlie was, how he gave heart to my dreams even though, as I now knew, his own heart was broken.

*****

That was a long, long time ago. Charlie the elder is gone now. So is my dad, my grandparents and my Aunt Tessa who did marry Brian. My mom lives with me and still feeds me from her budget-wise kitchen. Serena is a nana several times over and Joey, a math teacher at Eisenhower High, is getting ready to retire. Several more pups have stolen our hearts since Mighty Manfred’s days. And, as you may already know, I am the author of twelve mystery novels and countless short stories.  I teach writing classes at adult ed too. You won’t find me on any best-seller list but I have built a life and made a living around stories just as I dreamed of doing. When I look back across the years of the slowly flowering ambitions I first shared with Charlie Adulfiero, I know he was more than a friend. He was the patron saint of a skinny little girl with a passion for stories.

This is a fiction and any resemblance to anyone living or dead is coincidence.

© 2017, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved