'Pernil by Christopher Gonzalez

My mom stabs coin-sized pockets into a pork shoulder. This allows vinegar to swish through the muscle fibers—like white wine in a sommelier’s mouth: in, then out again.

The vinegar is unavoidable, she says. It cleans the pork and kills all unwanted bacteria.

There are parts of myself that I know are unwanted by others, those angry men and women I see on TV. My skin is the sepia tone of a vintage photograph they’d rather keep locked away in a chest. Would they scrub the Spanish from my tongue? Perhaps they’d flense away our language, peel it back like a layer of porky fat and rub the wounds raw with salt.

I stand at my mom’s side, rolling unpeeled cloves of garlic in my palm like dice. I want to ask her if she is also afraid of those men and women. But, she’s busy. She reaches into the bowl to work the meat, and when her fingertips, too often riddled with paper cuts and random nicks, make contact with the acidic bath, they whiten.

Does it hurt? I ask.

She shrugs. I know the pain well, she says. You’ll learn, too.


originally published in The Airgonaut

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