this is my body

eating and drinking at the end of the world
by Jonah james fontela
The squirrel’s body was low to the dirt as it crawled toward me. The animal was mangy and thin, its pelt matted and wrinkled like a cheap fur coat rolled up in a trunk and stinking of mothballs. It acted like no squirrel I’d ever seen. I stomped my shoe to the ground, but the vibrations didn’t send it rocketing up a tree. Determined. It paused for a moment when I hurled obscenities at it, before continuing toward me. Relentless. When I threw a twig, it ran back a few feet, stopped, and came at me again. Desperate. The squirrel fled when I chased it, but only as long as I pursued. When I sat back down to my lunch, back at me it came. The animal was starving or the animal was diseased. It’s back was to the wall. I ripped a piece of capocollo from my sandwich and threw it toward the dying creature that was ruining my picnic. Eat it I shouted. But the squirrel wobbled past the pink meat. Over there! Behind you. It’s food, man! Pedestrians enjoying the bright day, the first that felt like true spring, took note. They might not have seen the small rodent I was yelling at. Perhaps they thought I was crazy. I noticed them noticing me. I pointed to the meat. The squirrel sniffed at it but refused to eat. You’re too stupid to live. That’s food! I howled. I took bites of my sandwich while the squirrel stood at the base of a tree, the slice of cured pig’s neck between us. I once saw a squirrel stand on a fence post and grip a chicken wing like an upright jazz bass. He gnawed away at the flesh for fifteen minutes, so I know squirrels will eat meat. I would have gladly eaten the piece of pork dirtied on the same earth where George Washington took command of the Continental Army. I reluctantly ripped a hunk of soft bread from my sandwich and tossed it to the squirrel. It was fresh. He grabbed hold of it with his hands and began to eat. His movements finally made sense in the lumps of the tree’s old roots. He rolled the bread around in his tiny fists while I sat back against my own tree and finished my lunch.  [Photo: Mangy squirrel in Cambridge Common by Jonah James Fontela, 2014]

The squirrel’s body was low to the dirt as it crawled toward me. The animal was mangy and thin, its pelt matted and wrinkled like a cheap fur coat rolled up in a trunk and stinking of mothballs. It acted like no squirrel I’d ever seen. I stomped my shoe to the ground, but the vibrations didn’t send it rocketing up a tree. Determined. It paused for a moment when I hurled obscenities at it, before continuing toward me. Relentless. When I threw a twig, it ran back a few feet, stopped, and came at me again. Desperate. The squirrel fled when I chased it, but only as long as I pursued. When I sat back down to my lunch, back at me it came. The animal was starving or the animal was diseased. It’s back was to the wall. I ripped a piece of capocollo from my sandwich and threw it toward the dying creature that was ruining my picnic. Eat it I shouted. But the squirrel wobbled past the pink meat. Over there! Behind you. It’s food, man! Pedestrians enjoying the bright day, the first that felt like true spring, took note. They might not have seen the small rodent I was yelling at. Perhaps they thought I was crazy. I noticed them noticing me. I pointed to the meat. The squirrel sniffed at it but refused to eat. You’re too stupid to live. That’s food! I howled. I took bites of my sandwich while the squirrel stood at the base of a tree, the slice of cured pig’s neck between us. I once saw a squirrel stand on a fence post and grip a chicken wing like an upright jazz bass. He gnawed away at the flesh for fifteen minutes, so I know squirrels will eat meat. I would have gladly eaten the piece of pork dirtied on the same earth where George Washington took command of the Continental Army. I reluctantly ripped a hunk of soft bread from my sandwich and tossed it to the squirrel. It was fresh. He grabbed hold of it with his hands and began to eat. His movements finally made sense in the lumps of the tree’s old roots. He rolled the bread around in his tiny fists while I sat back against my own tree and finished my lunch.

[Photo: Mangy squirrel in Cambridge Common by Jonah James Fontela, 2014]

Put something, anything, on the curb in our neighborhood and it’s gone in a flash. Someone picks it up and carts it off before you’re back to the front door. A quick glance around the apartment turns up goods I considered, pondered and eventually carted home from the side of the road. A green vinyl chair in our living room. A small table with a hand-tooled leather top where we we drop our keys and mail. A handful of terracotta flower pots of various sizes, with plants alive and growing inside them, line a windowsill. The legs on the right side of the green chair are crooked on close inspection, but it’s no problem. No sweat. We face those legs to the wall. The springs in the seat are noisy and uneven and stick up into your butt cheek, but nothing’s perfect. A huge diagram, a cross-section of the decommissioned ocean liner SS Cristoforo Colombo dominates our bathroom wall. It bubbles with water damage at its corners; a brown tint along the edges. But it’s beautiful in its corruption. It’s alive on its way to death, just like us. I found it three blocks from here, leaning up against a tree. When my mother saw it she told me stories about the time she sailed on that very boat out of New York harbor. How swarms of dolphins greeted their arrival across the Atlantic in the bay of Naples. She told me, with tears in her eyes, how old women prayed on their knees in the boat’s stairwell when rough seas battered them a thousand miles from anything solid. When I put items out on the curb I don’t see them as garbage. They’re not my refuse. They are objects I no longer need or want, that someone else can probably use. We discarded a wooden chair, painted pale yellow by my sister’s hand long ago. It now sits on the porch of a neighbor two houses down. I sat on it handing out candy to costumed trick-or-treaters a few Halloweens ago. I see it every day and think of when my nephew was newly born, crying like a maniac. I remember holding him in that very chair when he was just a pile of jelly. I believe the chair is still somehow mine, but not enough to climb those porch steps and haul it back.[Image: Diagram of Italian ocean liner SS Cristoforo Colombo, scrapped in 1982]

Put something, anything, on the curb in our neighborhood and it’s gone in a flash. Someone picks it up and carts it off before you’re back to the front door. A quick glance around the apartment turns up goods I considered, pondered and eventually carted home from the side of the road. A green vinyl chair in our living room. A small table with a hand-tooled leather top where we we drop our keys and mail. A handful of terracotta flower pots of various sizes, with plants alive and growing inside them, line a windowsill. The legs on the right side of the green chair are crooked on close inspection, but it’s no problem. No sweat. We face those legs to the wall. The springs in the seat are noisy and uneven and stick up into your butt cheek, but nothing’s perfect. A huge diagram, a cross-section of the decommissioned ocean liner SS Cristoforo Colombo dominates our bathroom wall. It bubbles with water damage at its corners; a brown tint along the edges. But it’s beautiful in its corruption. It’s alive on its way to death, just like us. I found it three blocks from here, leaning up against a tree. When my mother saw it she told me stories about the time she sailed on that very boat out of New York harbor. How swarms of dolphins greeted their arrival across the Atlantic in the bay of Naples. She told me, with tears in her eyes, how old women prayed on their knees in the boat’s stairwell when rough seas battered them a thousand miles from anything solid. When I put items out on the curb I don’t see them as garbage. They’re not my refuse. They are objects I no longer need or want, that someone else can probably use. We discarded a wooden chair, painted pale yellow by my sister’s hand long ago. It now sits on the porch of a neighbor two houses down. I sat on it handing out candy to costumed trick-or-treaters a few Halloweens ago. I see it every day and think of when my nephew was newly born, crying like a maniac. I remember holding him in that very chair when he was just a pile of jelly. I believe the chair is still somehow mine, but not enough to climb those porch steps and haul it back.

[Image: Diagram of Italian ocean liner SS Cristoforo Colombo, scrapped in 1982]

A certain insect arrives in our house with the shift from spring to summer. It comes along with the open windows and the twinkling of re-hung wind chimes. The creature’s motion alarms me. It slides and slithers like a snake. The biggest one I ever saw was the size of a large Band-Aid. Hundreds of tiny legs, like antennae, propel them forward while their trunk moves in a constant wave. They wriggle out of the darkness when the air is heavy, a TV flickering in the corner of a dark room late at night. A sensed movement, something on the periphery of sight, like a tiny breeze kicking up before a thunderstorm, or the sound a hand makes brushed gently through a sink full of water. They writhe in the shadows, floating on legs as thin as light bulb filament. They move fast, darting for the nearest moist drain or crack in the floor. I saw my first of the season a few nights ago. It slid – out in the open, in the bare bright light – through a hole in the ceiling and down a pipe carrying steam up to the radiators of the second floor. It took the fastest route from the apartment above us, whose tenants receive large packages every day in the mails yet produce no garbage. I leapt from the couch, a tiny terror in my chest, and smashed the bug to bits with a slipper. A wad of yellow goo stained the white of the pipe and a handful of legs fused to the paint. The pipe was red hot, still feeding warmth to the house this late in a stubborn spring. The legs shriveled and shrank from the heat, and what dumb life remained in them.      [Image: Illustrations of insects from a French dictionary, 1922]

A certain insect arrives in our house with the shift from spring to summer. It comes along with the open windows and the twinkling of re-hung wind chimes. The creature’s motion alarms me. It slides and slithers like a snake. The biggest one I ever saw was the size of a large Band-Aid. Hundreds of tiny legs, like antennae, propel them forward while their trunk moves in a constant wave. They wriggle out of the darkness when the air is heavy, a TV flickering in the corner of a dark room late at night. A sensed movement, something on the periphery of sight, like a tiny breeze kicking up before a thunderstorm, or the sound a hand makes brushed gently through a sink full of water. They writhe in the shadows, floating on legs as thin as light bulb filament. They move fast, darting for the nearest moist drain or crack in the floor. I saw my first of the season a few nights ago. It slid – out in the open, in the bare bright light – through a hole in the ceiling and down a pipe carrying steam up to the radiators of the second floor. It took the fastest route from the apartment above us, whose tenants receive large packages every day in the mails yet produce no garbage. I leapt from the couch, a tiny terror in my chest, and smashed the bug to bits with a slipper. A wad of yellow goo stained the white of the pipe and a handful of legs fused to the paint. The pipe was red hot, still feeding warmth to the house this late in a stubborn spring. The legs shriveled and shrank from the heat, and what dumb life remained in them.     

[Image: Illustrations of insects from a French dictionary, 1922]

Not a success, overall. Somehow both stringy and fatty. Served in a big sort of cauldron, not unlike the kind of thing you tend to see in Macbeth.

The narrator of John Lanchester’s 1996 novel The Debt to Pleasure describes the only time he ever ate dog. It was in Macao “in the course of an experimental and unrepeated visit.” I ate dog once, in a dark corner of Seoul, South Korea, and you can read about it here.

Anger lives in my chest. Like a fire bundle, it’s never fully out. Never too far away from ignition and oxygen gobbling. It needs just a few small breaths of life; the slightest breeze from any source and it’s raging away, licking at the foundations and threatening peace. I choke on the smoke and my eyes sting, leaking from the fumes of melting plastic and cooked carpet. My chest, full of shallow smoky breaths, aches. The skin turns red. Sadness lives in my stomach. It enters through my nose and crawls down to the deepest chamber of my guts. There is melancholy in the aroma of garlic heating and a wooziness that comes only from frying onions early in the morning. Pigs’ feet and warm eggshells, the smell of wooden pens and rotting leaves, turn to fluid and spread like putty on the walls of my lower intestine. The word chocolate, spoken, drags me to metal bleachers on dusty fields and the coldest days of long-ago autumns. It fills my belly with the nausea of burning incense and the long, low wailing echo of the church’s organ. Painting: Iron Rolling Mill by German artist Adolph Menzel, 1875]

Anger lives in my chest. Like a fire bundle, it’s never fully out. Never too far away from ignition and oxygen gobbling. It needs just a few small breaths of life; the slightest breeze from any source and it’s raging away, licking at the foundations and threatening peace. I choke on the smoke and my eyes sting, leaking from the fumes of melting plastic and cooked carpet. My chest, full of shallow smoky breaths, aches. The skin turns red. Sadness lives in my stomach. It enters through my nose and crawls down to the deepest chamber of my guts. There is melancholy in the aroma of garlic heating and a wooziness that comes only from frying onions early in the morning. Pigs’ feet and warm eggshells, the smell of wooden pens and rotting leaves, turn to fluid and spread like putty on the walls of my lower intestine. The word chocolate, spoken, drags me to metal bleachers on dusty fields and the coldest days of long-ago autumns. It fills my belly with the nausea of burning incense and the long, low wailing echo of the church’s organ.

Painting: Iron Rolling Mill by German artist Adolph Menzel, 1875]

I sat in this same spot, under the same sun, last summer. I peeled myself off the moistening chair for no reason and heard a crack, but slower, like a tearing. A huge branch fell from the elm tree overhead, smashing the table I’d been leaning my elbow on, bending the chair I sat in. The branch wobbled to a stop with a thud in the driveway. It was moist at its scarred point, dripping droplets of water like thin blood. The tree belonged to my neighbor, an old man. It was not even a year ago, and he was energetic and lively then. He dug in his garden in springtime and blew snow into giant piles in winter. But he slowed. He became sick. He moves with difficulty now, his face swollen from medicine and his breathing strained. He had that elm tree, which climbed high above the roof of his three-story house and cast cooling shadows, brought down. Men came with a truck and a cherry-picker, chainsaws and chippers at the ready. The near hundred-year-old tree was in pieces and ground to dust in less than an hour. Only an inch of stump remained, and that was shredded to nothing by a remote-controlled grinder days later. That tree vanished under the tangy smell of wet, red mulch. It hurt him to take the tree down. We’ll miss it he and shook his head.Yesterday, another branch fell. It was a big one and it landed in the street. The blooming leaves become sails in the blowing wind and rain of April. The tree became dangerous. City workers pulled their equipment up and sawed huge pieces from the elm. I was distracted from making dinner, watching the work from the window. I wondered if they meant to take the whole thing down. It’s the last large elm on this man’s property. I was concerned. Neighbors gathered in the street to see limbs dangle on cables attached to a crane. The workers left the tree thinned and patchy, but still standing. I wish they took the whole thing down, my neighbor told me from his car window today. He was on his way to his best friend’s funeral. I hadn’t written anything for two years before this eulogy he said, tapping his breast pocket. There was an inhaler in the cup holder and his hair was combed and cut neat. Sometimes you just live too long he smiled, and backed out, slowly, under what was left of the last elm tree.Photograph: Scarred Tree by Jonah James Fontela, Spring 2014]

I sat in this same spot, under the same sun, last summer. I peeled myself off the moistening chair for no reason and heard a crack, but slower, like a tearing. A huge branch fell from the elm tree overhead, smashing the table I’d been leaning my elbow on, bending the chair I sat in. The branch wobbled to a stop with a thud in the driveway. It was moist at its scarred point, dripping droplets of water like thin blood. The tree belonged to my neighbor, an old man. It was not even a year ago, and he was energetic and lively then. He dug in his garden in springtime and blew snow into giant piles in winter. But he slowed. He became sick. He moves with difficulty now, his face swollen from medicine and his breathing strained. He had that elm tree, which climbed high above the roof of his three-story house and cast cooling shadows, brought down. Men came with a truck and a cherry-picker, chainsaws and chippers at the ready. The near hundred-year-old tree was in pieces and ground to dust in less than an hour. Only an inch of stump remained, and that was shredded to nothing by a remote-controlled grinder days later. That tree vanished under the tangy smell of wet, red mulch. It hurt him to take the tree down. We’ll miss it he and shook his head.

Yesterday, another branch fell. It was a big one and it landed in the street. The blooming leaves become sails in the blowing wind and rain of April. The tree became dangerous. City workers pulled their equipment up and sawed huge pieces from the elm. I was distracted from making dinner, watching the work from the window. I wondered if they meant to take the whole thing down. It’s the last large elm on this man’s property. I was concerned. Neighbors gathered in the street to see limbs dangle on cables attached to a crane. The workers left the tree thinned and patchy, but still standing. I wish they took the whole thing down, my neighbor told me from his car window today. He was on his way to his best friend’s funeral. I hadn’t written anything for two years before this eulogy he said, tapping his breast pocket. There was an inhaler in the cup holder and his hair was combed and cut neat. Sometimes you just live too long he smiled, and backed out, slowly, under what was left of the last elm tree.

Photograph: Scarred Tree by Jonah James Fontela, Spring 2014]

Old box fans and rotted boards balanced against the rock wall. I was visiting the neighborhood where I grew up and I slowed to a stop in front of a huge pile of trash. Years of useless garbage in front of a house where I played and ate, sometimes fought with fists, and set the small brush fires of youth. A woman lived in that house and she was the boss. She was in charge. The meals she made every day were magnificent and voluminous, especially on Sundays. Braciola. Tough cuts of beef pounded flat, rolled with slices of hardboiled egg and herbs and braised for hours. The meat drippings mingled with tomato and tasted faintly of metal. I remember the time a bread knife flew across the kitchen from the hand of one brother, aimed at the back of another. I remembered chaos and noise, a door that was always open in winter or in summer. I sat in my car and remembered how that small woman began to shrink. She hunched at the shoulders, struggling not to tip under the weight of her laundry basket. She finally started kicking it down the long hallway. I remembered years passing and the disease twisting her fingers and toes into knots. One day she couldn’t talk anymore. The woman was frozen like stone and looked like she was crying all the time. She’s laughing her children said, but it didn’t look like that to me. I remember especially the way her husband, dead now too, cared for her in those last years when she couldn’t get up from her hospital bed in a spare room off the kitchen. The sadness in his eyes at church where he prayed alone. I looked at that bed, tipped on its side and stripped down to metal links, rusting in the springtime thaw.  [Painting: Flood Plain by American painter Andrew Wyeth, 1986]

Old box fans and rotted boards balanced against the rock wall. I was visiting the neighborhood where I grew up and I slowed to a stop in front of a huge pile of trash. Years of useless garbage in front of a house where I played and ate, sometimes fought with fists, and set the small brush fires of youth. A woman lived in that house and she was the boss. She was in charge. The meals she made every day were magnificent and voluminous, especially on Sundays. Braciola. Tough cuts of beef pounded flat, rolled with slices of hardboiled egg and herbs and braised for hours. The meat drippings mingled with tomato and tasted faintly of metal. I remember the time a bread knife flew across the kitchen from the hand of one brother, aimed at the back of another. I remembered chaos and noise, a door that was always open in winter or in summer. I sat in my car and remembered how that small woman began to shrink. She hunched at the shoulders, struggling not to tip under the weight of her laundry basket. She finally started kicking it down the long hallway. I remembered years passing and the disease twisting her fingers and toes into knots. One day she couldn’t talk anymore. The woman was frozen like stone and looked like she was crying all the time. She’s laughing her children said, but it didn’t look like that to me. I remember especially the way her husband, dead now too, cared for her in those last years when she couldn’t get up from her hospital bed in a spare room off the kitchen. The sadness in his eyes at church where he prayed alone. I looked at that bed, tipped on its side and stripped down to metal links, rusting in the springtime thaw.

[Painting: Flood Plain by American painter Andrew Wyeth, 1986]

We wandered in Florence, our shoes slipping on the slick cobbles and splashing in the cold puddles of February. There was a hum in the workshops, full of hunks of plaster and pieces of statues stacked high in corners. Galleries thrust bright colors through windows to enliven the grey of the day. Men with beards screamed into cell phones, smoking cigarettes on the narrow walkways, teetering on curbs. I saw food, such food in a window. It took me away from my wanderings. I put my face to the glass. The food confused my mind and attacked my stomach. My mouth watered. It was too early for lunch, so we walked and we walked. But in my mind remained the images of bounty. A huge bowl of white beans soaking in an oil so virgin it was green. A frittata shining a brighter yellow than any sun of deep summer, and veal pounded flat and rolled with spinach. Onions roasted to a deep brown and drizzled with the night-black of balsamic vinegar. The memories of this food in this window grew quickly to mythology as I moved and turned down old roads, getting farther and farther away. Bowls and platters mingled with the thick legs of statue men and the women, queens in stone cloaks balancing on pedestals in the ancient squares. We moved on, sure to find another place to eat, back across the old bridge with its jewels and gold rings winking at us, toward the center of things where throngs of Japanese tourists and Chinese tourists. But there was no food for me after that food I saw in the window. That was what I wanted. I began to moan after 30 minutes of walking, of trudging through narrow corridors and up steep hills toward the gray sky. Now I was hungry, but there was so much distance and so many turns and such uncertainty between where we were and the window with the food. I felt defeated. Nina fixed that with her attitude, which she can do when mine rebels. We’ll walk back, she said. I protested. It’s stupid. We’ll never find it. It’s miles away across fifty rivers and up a million mountains. Let’s just eat some of this bullshit here in this place with these people. No. She insisted and we walked back. My mood lifted. I imagined how soft and warm those beans would be and the vinegar tang and thickness over the onions. We were there before long. A few wrong turns and we found our way. We sat, beside a huge kitchen. I grabbed two wine glasses from a shelf in the back and we opened our half bottle of Chianti. We waited for our food. There was nowhere else to be. [Photo: Forno in Florence by Jonah James Fontela, 2014]

We wandered in Florence, our shoes slipping on the slick cobbles and splashing in the cold puddles of February. There was a hum in the workshops, full of hunks of plaster and pieces of statues stacked high in corners. Galleries thrust bright colors through windows to enliven the grey of the day. Men with beards screamed into cell phones, smoking cigarettes on the narrow walkways, teetering on curbs. I saw food, such food in a window. It took me away from my wanderings. I put my face to the glass. The food confused my mind and attacked my stomach. My mouth watered. It was too early for lunch, so we walked and we walked. But in my mind remained the images of bounty. A huge bowl of white beans soaking in an oil so virgin it was green. A frittata shining a brighter yellow than any sun of deep summer, and veal pounded flat and rolled with spinach. Onions roasted to a deep brown and drizzled with the night-black of balsamic vinegar. The memories of this food in this window grew quickly to mythology as I moved and turned down old roads, getting farther and farther away. Bowls and platters mingled with the thick legs of statue men and the women, queens in stone cloaks balancing on pedestals in the ancient squares. We moved on, sure to find another place to eat, back across the old bridge with its jewels and gold rings winking at us, toward the center of things where throngs of Japanese tourists and Chinese tourists. But there was no food for me after that food I saw in the window. That was what I wanted. I began to moan after 30 minutes of walking, of trudging through narrow corridors and up steep hills toward the gray sky. Now I was hungry, but there was so much distance and so many turns and such uncertainty between where we were and the window with the food. I felt defeated. Nina fixed that with her attitude, which she can do when mine rebels. We’ll walk back, she said. I protested. It’s stupid. We’ll never find it. It’s miles away across fifty rivers and up a million mountains. Let’s just eat some of this bullshit here in this place with these people. No. She insisted and we walked back. My mood lifted. I imagined how soft and warm those beans would be and the vinegar tang and thickness over the onions. We were there before long. A few wrong turns and we found our way. We sat, beside a huge kitchen. I grabbed two wine glasses from a shelf in the back and we opened our half bottle of Chianti. We waited for our food. There was nowhere else to be.

[Photo: Forno in Florence by Jonah James Fontela, 2014]