You Never Know Just How You Look in Other People’s Eyes

train passenger
By Gina Easley

By Nicole Walker

There are several ways to get to Siena, Italy. For Erik and me, to get out of Lecce, a town notched in the heel of the boot of Italy, and into Siena, where, if these boots had laces, you would tie the knot, we had to take a car, then a train, then a taxi, then a plane, and then another train and then walk straight up hill to the medieval city that is like Florence if Florence had not become heart-of-the-Renaissance-Florence. We took our first train from Lecce, through Brindisi, to Bari.

We are competent train takers. We take the subway when we’re in New York. We know you can sit forward or backward. We don’t get motion sickness. We can walk up and down the aisle. We know it is not like a car or a plane, but, admittedly, even though the Burlington Northern and Amtrak make us wait at the crossing in our Flagstaff hometown twice a day, we know trains as occasions, not everyday transportations.

The train from Lecce into Bari was late. We got into the cab to head to the airport. I told the driver, “We are late,” in whatever pretend Italian I knew then and have since forgotten. We were blond and carrying rolly suitcases. In Lecce, no one pretended to know English like I pretended to know Italian. But in Bari, the cab driver pretended to understand. Maybe I showed him the plane ticket. It was 11:40. Our flight left at 12:15. The train station is nowhere near the airport. I know he understood me because he spoke the international language of late-for-the-airport. He drove on the sidewalk. He took a left in a lane marked “right turns only.” His tires scraped curb. He stepped on the accelerator to speed around a bus to turn in front of it, bus honking, breaks squealing.

Now might have been a good time to tell the cab driver I was pregnant. Being pregnant shifts your perspective. Suddenly, your life, as protector of fetus, becomes much more precious, even if it’s a pregnancy you’re ambivalent about—it’s hard to be pregnant in wine country. Unlike normal times, making the plane on time seemed less important than surviving the cab-ride. But I did not know the word for pregnant and, although my perspective had shifted slightly, I didn’t want to bug the driver who was concentrating very hard to make a third lane for the taxi-cab where two lanes only existed.


We thought we missed our flight. But then we read the arrivals and departures wrong. We had time to make it to the gate where we had prepaid for assigned seats. In Europe, people who fly Ryan Air rush like Barian cab drivers across the tarmac, suit coats flying, hand holding hat, to get their seats. Erik and I fly in America where our seats are assigned, and we board as soon as possible because sitting in a too-small seat ensures on on-time departure. In Bari, I walked to my seat like a pretend-calm person even though I did not understand why there were two staircases leading up to one airplane. The flight attendants had opened the back door of the plane to let us board. I did not know planes had back doors although I did know, thanks to my desperate attempt to keep the plane from crashing by listening attentively to the safety speech at the beginning of every flight that “the nearest exit may be behind you.” That an exit can also be an entrance is a very European idea.

After that, easy peasy, as Max, who was then only a two-month-old fetus, would say as a five-year-old now. He lived. We lived. The flight. The cab ride. I did not know how dangerous knowing only iPod Italian might be. When we arrived in Siena, our host spoke English. The knot that had been in my stomach, squishing fetus Max, unwound. I would give anything for a host for forever, someone to take me to a foreign country, find the airport on time, speak Italian to the taxi driver, explain why Americans don’t use two staircases to board the airplane from the front and the back.


It’s impossible to know how high the seas will rise. Maybe they won’t rise much at all. Maybe whale poop will sequester the carbon. Maybe the mushrooms will. But some maps predict a bleaker future. In Grist Magazine, Greg Hansom describes pictures of sunken cities, newly named reliefs like Sea of San Diego and Archipelago of Bainbridge. San Joaquin Peninsula is all that’s left of Orange County. The coast we know now probably won’t disappear in our lifetime but in the next or the next or maybe sooner if the coal keeps burning and the cars keep driving.

I say “the cars” and “the coal” as if I am not sitting in a house, typing on a coal-burning laptop as the heater kicks on and pours naturally gassed heat upon me. As if the “the” means I won’t drive my Honda CRV to pick up my kids from school. Another article in the same magazine claimed that it’s liberals as much as Republicans who are the problem. We blame them for denying what we believe is there. But somebody else’s denial is necessary for us to believe that we liberals are doing the right thing, which is a whole lot of nothing. Nobody wants to be blamed for the Santa Monica pier falling into the ocean, but no one also wants to turn the heat down to fifty-five degrees in the winter or the air-conditioning to eighty in the summer. Heck, I have a dream to drive Route 66 all the way from Santa Monica to Chicago, Illinois. I wish I’d driven my car to Italy. Cars are a host country, like a planet. Every gum wrapper and seat print is our own. Our dreams are our cars. They take us out of here without it having to feel the pain of the unfamiliar. But, as the seas rise, perhaps we should get familiar with the boat.


In Siena, the Palio happens twice a summer. Around the Piazza del Campo, horses race. Men, called Camparsa, in medieval outfits parade flags from their district through the streets toward the piazza. The streets, lined with nearly black cobblestones, are bordered by tall, connected houses from the 1300s, red flags, black stone, a Duomo, the Siena Cathedral.

The food in Siena was not the food of Puglia, which was dominated by broccoli rabe and orchiette, a whole-grain pasta. Siena had pizza. It had gelato. It had the food of the American Italian Vacation and it had wine I couldn’t drink. Like a proper tourist, I bought a scarf for ten euros. Like a tourist full of regrets, I should have bought a hundred. We stayed in a hotel that overlooked a garden. The piazza formed a circle where, during the parade, the horses rode around and the centuries swirled around and everything was stone which is how you make a city last—make it stone, make it circular to keep the art inside and the pillagers out. You keep the Renaissance at bay by keeping Florence down the street. You keep nature managed by turning it into a vineyard called Tuscany. Italy is a land of circles made by square painting frames and plots of grape and tomato vines. In Siena, you can’t see far because of the tall houses and the circling streets. It is easy to get lost although most of the time, the Duomo is in sight but the middle of the Duomo too is round and so if you end up on the wrong side of it, you might never know.

And I didn’t know, when we were on our way back to Lecce, to return to Zoe, the already-born kid, who was being watched by her attentive but window-opening grandparents who didn’t know about the Vape that you plug into the wall and emits some mosquito death vapor—and who could know of them? They, like we, are from the United States where we have DEET but no Vapes and so invited a thousand or so mosquitoes into their cottage to feast upon our already barely-alive daughter. She wasn’t really barely alive, but she had the Bad Lungs and the RSV and the inhaler broke the minute we plugged it into the wrong wall adapter. We adapt less well to the foreign world. We have made mistakes. We repeat them. Mosquitoes can sting more than once.


The mosquitoes are getting worse. The Natural Resources Defense Council reports that mosquito-borne diseases are already spreading more rapidly. In the regular times, like the eighties, at seven-thousand feet elevation, people are safe from mosquitoes carrying Dengue Fever. Dengue-fever-carrying mosquitoes once didn’t travel higher than 3,200 feet. But it’s getting warm up here. Mosquitoes don’t suffer from altitude sickness, just the cold. Which it is not. Not even in December. Scientific American, in a September 27, 2013 article notes that incidences of Chikungunya, a disease carried by the Tiger mosquito, which causes high fevers and rashes, is on the rise in Western Europe. Zanahoria, Italian for mosquito, was a word we all knew when we left Italy. Chikungunya is a word we do not know but maybe experienced that long night in Lecce when Zoe couldn’t sleep.


Erik and I wouldn’t be late for the plane this time. We made it to the Siena train station early. I read the schedule. Or, I tried to read the schedule. Pisa CSE, Pisa Centrale. Trenitalia. One stop in Empoli. Isn’t there a nonstop?

Erik and I peered through the glass, the train schedule old and blurry. Our phones didn’t work then, in Italy. The computer, as the nebulizer adapter died when we plugged it in, died on the plane in from Rome. If it were 1960 and Erik and I were on the platform, perhaps then things would have made more sense. We would have studied the book harder, not being so lulled into submission by easy info access on our smartish phones. We would have taken trains more often, understanding that Centrale and One Stop were the same idea. Perhaps, in the 1960s, when the mosquitoes were happy at 3,200 feet and San Diego was confident of its shores, we would have been more versed in chivalry. Perhaps it would have been a time when Erik understood One Stop and Centrale to be the same destination, I would have trusted him. Perhaps if all our verses had been written in 1960s chivalry, he would have waited for me while I was in the bathroom instead of getting on the train without me. Perhaps I would have trusted him and his new British friends as they all waved to me to get on the damn train. Perhaps my 1960-self would have been more credulous. Of course Erik made new British friends and boarded a train without me. If only we could go back in time and then, again, in time, because it keeps coming, time, perhaps I would have jumped on that train, full of belief and trust in trains I did not know and toward the only Pisa that could have been waiting for me.


We use the word “believe” when we talk about climate change. Fox News doesn’t believe it. Members of the National Resources Defense Council do believe it. Readers of Scientific American mostly believe it. Belief is the word you use when you cannot be sure about the future. And the scientists aren’t sure how high the mosquitoes will fly. They aren’t sure how high the oceans will rise. Belief, though, whether you do it or not, only worries about the future. When you believe in God, you pray to him to make good things happen. When you believe in climate change, you believe that maybe good things don’t. One of my mentors believes science will save us—big carbon scrubbers in the sky. How is hope different than belief?


Instead, I did not get on the train. Erik did not get off the train. I stood on the platform as the train pulled away. Erik stared at me through the train window. Incredulity is another word for stubborn. I sat down on the concrete platform, underneath the schedule that predicted when Erik would come back. I’d figured out the train schedule by then but not my husband. I figured out that he might have been right about all trains leading to Pisa but that didn’t necessarily make me wrong. I waited as one train came back. Two trains. Three trains. He was not on any of them. I figured out that maybe sometimes it’s important to just go with the person you are with rather than let your butt get cold on the concrete platform of the Tranitalia Empoli station. Longing is another word for not knowing what to do next.


If I had a house on the Olympic Peninsula, built fifty feet behind the neighbor’s property, which reaches out to the shore of the Puget Sound, how long would I have to wait until I could claim millionaire status for my now-ocean front property? When the water swallowed the neighbor’s strangely-suburban lawn? When the water lapped at my neighbor’s duck-dotted welcome mat? When the country duck hanging as a welcome sign is as wet as the doormat? When the roof of my neighbor’s house makes a nice fishing dock? You are silly to think oceanfront property will mean anything when you have to stay indoors to keep the mosquitoes from injecting their malarial parasite near the now-warm waters of the Puget Sound.


Eventually, I got on a train to Pisa. Eventually, Erik came back. Our trains must have passed each other. When I got to Pisa, he wasn’t there. I went back to Empoli. He wasn’t there either.


The seas have risen far enough to turn Queen Anne into an island at least once before, Jurassicly. They can do it again. Of course, the pretend house I built on the Sound will be under water by then, but, then, the sea doesn’t mind the taste of human constructs.


Finally, our flight back to Bari, back to our mosquito-ridden daughter, back to our flight back to Rome that would get us out of Italy nearly departing, I rode the train back to Pisa. I had the plane tickets. He had to be there. And he was. He stood at the edge of the platform. If this had been a movie, I would have run to him. He would have run to me. Open arms.


I am a good swimmer. If not a good reader of schedules or husbands. I am ready for you, warm waters of the Puget Sound. I know it would be too much to ask for you, dear ocean, to leave me any oysters.


But this is not a movie. His arms are folded. Crossed. I’m so happy to see him. My heart thrills. I am home. But still. I cannot believe that he left me behind.

He says, “I cannot believe you.”

Which I take to mean, I cannot believe in you.

But I say, “You can’t believe me? I can’t believe you!”

I touch my arms. My hair. I am here.

“You’re the one that left me,” I say.

“You never trust me,” he says.

“I’m the one who speaks Italian,” I say.

“You cannot read a map,” he says.

“I came to you. Twice.” I say.

“I went back for you,” he says.

We each folded our arms because no one wants to believe they misunderstood a schedule, a wave, a bathroom break, a pregnancy, a train-trip to somewhere so beautiful so badly. If this were an O’Henry story, this would have been a love story. But this is not O’Henry. Erik was raised by a single-mom who did everything by herself—made peanut butter and jellies, went to work, paid the mortgage, bought a car, hiked in the desert, took the kids to the dentist, mopped the floors. He doesn’t believe that just because I had to pee, just because I was pregnant, just because I wanted to be convinced by the signage, that I shouldn’t have just gotten it together, got on the next train, and met him in Pisa. A feminist is the guy who figures his wife will figure it out. His mom could have done it herself. And, on my side, I don’t believe I should have just trusted him, just gotten on the train just because he said so, without even talking to me. I’m a feminist who doesn’t believe anybody should tell me what to do, even if that means I wait on the platform for two hours to be rescued by some chivalrous husband who does not believe in chivalry. Two stubborn faces staring through the window. There’s no way to know how to go back. I sing a version of the Charlie on the MTA song,

Did he ever return, no he never returned 
And his fate is still unlearned
He may ride forever ‘neath the streets of Pisa
He’s the man who never returned. 

Erik doesn’t laugh. And then he does.


You can know a few things. You can know this: No one is going to rescue us. We are going to miss our flight from Pisa to Bari. We are going to miss seeing our kid, with her mosquito bites, harboring a virus we cannot pronounce. We are going to spend the rest of our lives passing our traveling companions on the train from Pisa to Empoli, from Empoli to Pisa. But we won’t know what it feels like until we open the windows and actually touch the water. Until then, all we will see is our warped faces, reflected back at us. Duck decorations can’t swim. I should have believed Erik instead of staying put and hoping he’d come back to save me.

They say with time, you look back and laugh. For Erik, that’s not so long. For the island of San Diego, it’s too soon to know.


NICOLE WALKER’s Quench Your Thirst with Salt won the Zone 3 Award for Creative Nonfiction and was released in June 2013. She is the author of a collection of poems, This Noisy Egg  (Barrow Street 2010) and edited, with Margot Singer, Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction, (Bloomsbury, 2013) and with Rebecca Campbell—7 Artists, 7 Rings—an Artist’s Game of Telephone for the Huffington Post. A recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment from the Arts, she’s nonfiction editor at Diagram and Associate Professor at Northern Arizona University where she will host the 2015 NonfictioNOW Conference in Flagstaff, Arizona where it rains like the Pacific Northwest, but only in July.

Read more FGP essays by Nicole Walker.

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god encounter
By Gina Easley


By Nicole Walker

Max, three and a quarter years old, wakes up in the morning, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, asking, “Do I have to go to school tomorrow?”

“You have to go to school tomorrow and today.”


He is crushed. Tears. “But I want to stay with Mama.”

Who doesn’t? I’m lots of fun, staring at my computer all day and complaining about the news.

I’m making his sister, Zoe’s, lunch. He comes out wearing shorts, a long-sleeved shirt, red cowboy boots, gloves, and a helmet. It’s thirty-three degrees outside. “Too cold for shorts, bubba.”

“But I want shorts.” If this kid wins any records, one of them will be able to sustain the word want for forty-five seconds.

“Fine. Freeze.” This is not a good thing to say to a three-year-old and yet, it’s a good thing to say to Max because you will not win. You will not offer him candy to change. You will not threaten him with punishment. You will not carry him and forcibly change him. Even if you manage to physically restrain him, he’ll run into his sister’s room to put his shorts back on.

“Grandpa’s wearing shorts.”

“Grandpa is not even here.”

And then he sees his dad, who is wearing flip-flops. Off go the boots.

I tuck his regular shoes and a pair of pants into his backpack. It seems cruel to make the preschool ladies fight the battle, but trying to convince Max to do something he doesn’t want to do is like trying to convince a pig to understand about the greatness of bacon.

Max’s teachers probably won’t take up the battle. He will be cold, but he won’t die of cold. It will warm up by noon, I tell myself. It’s perfectly normal to wear shorts in February, I think. He’s really quite warm-blooded, I say to myself.

I can go to great lengths to change my own mind.


Farm-to-table has become tail-to-snout kind of dining. This works best when you’re talking about a fish. I love the whole trout. Hamachi cheek is my favorite food group. I can make good progress with a chicken. All the meat. The guts and bones for broth. I have eaten chicken feet before. The whole cow? Tongue. Sweetbreads, the thymus gland. Oxtail soup. I have made a lot of progress on the cow.

The idea behind the eating of the offal is to let nothing go to waste. It stems from a kind of environmentalism—if you’re going to do the evil of eating meat, you should at least have the sense to make use of all. It’s tied to a respect for indigenous cultures—Native Americans used the whole animal. It’s tied to the DIY food movement—butchering, cooking, smoking, and curing your own meat is a sign of self-sufficiency. It’s a sign of respect. You have to believe that eating the whole animal is for the greater good. The greater good becomes a kind of religion. This religion, like all religions, comes through the stomach and convinces through intestinal satisfaction. You have done the good work. You have ingested the good thing. Transubstantiation. Voila, animal is God in the belly. Voila, you are at once person, cow, and God. To make it all the way to heaven, you have to be a stubborn convert, eat the ears of a cow in the form of the ears of cow, not in the easy form hotdog. One is not born into the church of nose-to-tail gastronomy. Becoming a lover of all food requires conversion.


When I pick Zoe up from second grade on Wednesdays, I bring her a smoothie so she has some energy before gymnastics. I make one for Max, too, and pick him up after I finish my grading during Zoe’s class. One Wednesday, I had a late meeting. I couldn’t get home to make smoothies. I picked up some Pirate’s Booty and Strawberry Monster Odwallas at the grocery store. This was good for Zoe. She loves Pirate’s Booty. This was not good for Max.

“But I want my yellow cup.”

“Look Max, this is better. It’s got more sugar!”

“But it’s not in my yellow cup.”

“Pirate’s Booty! Full of salt AND sugar,” I try to convince him. “It’s delicious.”

“It tastes like Styrofoam.”

Lesson to take from this: do not teach your kid to eat the edible packing peanuts shipped with Apple products. Do not teach your stubborn kid the word “Styrofoam.” Only stubborn kids will learn the word to use against you. Do not indulge your kid with a yellow cup every day. Maybe just every other day. Kids love rituals, but they should love sugar more.


A farm-to-table restaurant in Boston called Estragon serves a whole pig head. A server brings the head to your table. The pig’s head has been roasted. Or, rather, a chef stuck a pig’s head in an oven. It looks like Luau pig. The skin is crispy brown. The head is small. It’s a baby pig. “Look at that.” (Many syllables on the that). “Hello, baby,” someone says. A table of four cannot be expected to eat an adult pig’s head elegantly.

A table of four cannot even be expected to eat a baby pig’s head elegantly. Fingers will be involved, but not at first. At first, feign utensils. The cheeks come off easy enough. Slice them like chicken breasts off the bone, then slice them crosswise. Serve a slice to the diner to your right. The other cheek, let your friends on the other side of the table carve for fear too much reaching will soak your fancy sleeve with grease. What is it like? Carnitas. The most carnal carnitas you’ve ever head. Shredded pork has nothing on pork cheek. This cheek is not just on-the-bone but this cheek is braised not only near bone but in pig fat. There is a lot of pig fat. Do not bother to wipe your hands between head parts. There is nothing better than pig fat. There is more. You go on. Tongue first. Can’t be worse than the tacos de lengua you order quietly when they order carne asada. The skin? You’ve heard of cracklins. You suspect this is what they taste like although admittedly, you’ve never had cracklins. The snout? Iconographic pig is the cutest part of the pig.

You take a tiny bite for the collective cause. The brain? You know you’re not supposed to eat cow brain, for fear the bovine spongiform encephalopathy. You pride yourself on knowing what’s new in medical news as much as what’s new in foodie news. There is no porcine encephalopathy that you have heard of. You take a bite. The fattiest pork fat. The closest thing to foie gras. But the eyeball. You just close your own eyes and put the pig’s in your mouth, gnash it quickly. Most religions rely on a cross between knowing and not-knowing which is sin and which is not and you don’t want to know too much about the chewing and swallowing of eye. The sin is in the popping.


“I want to wear my cowboy boots.”

“You are wearing your cowboy boots.” Max is indeed wearing his red cowboy boots.

“I want my cowboy boots.”

“Come here.” Max walks over to me. I pick him up. He puts his head on my shoulder and pats me on the back. He’s sorry that his mama is so confused. So is she.

The boots fall off one by one. He points to them on the floor. “See. I am not wearing my cowboy boots.”

Reality conforms to those who want it most. He wants it so much he makes it happen. I am proud of his rhetorical skills in an exhausted kind of way.


Do you have to talk yourself into eating pig’s head? Do you have to talk others into joining you? What words do you use? When you ask the diners what they thought about the experience, they say, “It is a lot of work.” If you ask them, “Would you do it again?” They say, “No. Lobster’s a lot of work but I know where the cache of meat is. With the pig, it was too much work to get to the stores of meat. Same with crab. It’s too much work.”

You cannot eat a pig’s head alone. The first rule of a religion is that, if you do it alone, it’s not a religion, it’s a psychosis. You are going to have to find a way to bring the pig to the people. If you can eat bacon, which is the fat and muscled layers of a pig’s belly, then you can eat a snout! But we must make the word sound more beautiful than snout. To sell it to the less adventurous food-lovers, you’re going to have to rely on some words that convey a happier reality. Try “liebe.” The Germans won’t mind. Martin Buber, a major Austrian-born philosopher, promoted immanence. Austria is practically Germany. Love, love, love is everywhere.


“Hey Max,” I call from the other room. “Zoe wants to go to sushi. You want to go?”

“No. I do not want to go to sushi. I want to stay home.”

“Why do you want to stay home? We’ve been home all day.”

“Stay home. Stay home. Stay home.”

He wins this one because for sure we don’t want to go to our favorite sushi place and have him scream, “Home. Home. Home. I want to go home.”

I turn on the oven. Put some potatoes in to bake. I quick-brine some chicken thighs. Seven minutes before we sit down to eat, Max looks at me and says, “I thought we were going to sushi.”

I would like to stick my hands into his head and turn his brain around. I would like, at that moment, to massage some consistency into his head. But then, if consistent, he would not be Max.


How do you talk people into doing things? How do you convince three-year-olds? Is the process the same? Think of the poor vegetarian. He wants to convince you that eating animals is disgusting. It’s bad for your health, for the planet, and for the animal. You’d think the best way for him to start was to serve you a pig’s head, make you confront your demons, your evil, your sin. But something happens to the human mind. It resists conversion, at least when it comes to fat and meat. The stomach that a moment ago churned against the idea of popping an eyeball now somehow sends signals to the salivary glands to make them water. The vegetarian is aghast that you are chewing on an ear right in front of him. You offer him the other ear. He does not take a bite. You are at an impasse. No converts this night.


I spend my life trying to convince Max to do what I want him to do. To put on shoes. To eat some broccoli. To go to sleep my god please go to sleep. But the point of having kids in the first place is to be converted unto them.

“Yesterday, there was a bird on my bed who told me I should be Spiderman and he gave me webs. I should take my webs outside and fight the bad guys.”

“Who are the bad guys?”

“There are no bad guys, mama. Come outside and see.” And Max takes me outside to show me where he would shoot his webs if there were bad guys but now there are only hummingbirds.

“See? No bad guys. No webs. Hummingbirds.”

“You like hummingbirds, Max?”

“I love hummingbirds.”

And thus, the religion of Max.


If you name the pig snout “liebe,” you have a naming strategy akin to religion’s. Eucharist for cracker. Wine for blood. If you make eating pig head something you do every six weeks when Bob and Sue come to town, you have the routine of Sunday church-going, Easter, Christmas. If you repeat it in the right order. If you anoint the pig’s head with olive oil, if you say Grace in the form of, oh my god, I can’t eat that, and then do, you will have your Christ. Your farm-to-table religion. You are leading by example. While everyone else eats bacon, you are sacrificing by crunching an eyeball between your teeth. Transubstantiation. The idea of transforming yourself is what religion is really good at. Conversion is as satisfying as eating pig’s fat. It’s even better that you had once been so confirmed in your original morality: no eyeballs for me! And yet now, you wake up some nights craving the jelly pop of eye.


Max convinces me every day, not by the power of persuasion but by the power of naming and ritual. Those are not cowboy boots. I want juice—not in a cup but in a cup. My face is not dirty. This is not even face. It is dirt. And dirt should be dirty. “Mama, you should sleep by me.”

“But this is not my bed,” he says, trying to convince me I should sleep there. He points to his bed. “It is your bed.” He pats the pillow. “Sleep by me.” I lie down. I can sleep in my bed tomorrow, I tell myself. Perhaps conversion is a daily thing.

I used to think I was a bad mother for Max. I had been, to my mind, a good, patient, not-argumentative mother with Zoe. But lately I’ve been thinking that Zoe converted me first to her own religion. She wanted to keep the tent up in the front room for six weeks on end. We let her. She made me and Erik lie down on the floor so she could cover my face with washcloths and say “go to sleep.” We did. She only ate food cut into the shape of squares. Max has a whole different list of jobs for me. How do I become the better mother?


Max asks for hot juice.

“You mean cold juice.”

“Hot. Juice.”

“I do not think you would like hot juice.”

“I want hot juice. Please.”

The “please” convinces me. Maybe hot juice is the new thing. I get out the orange juice from the fridge. I take out a pan. I pour some juice. I turn the heat on low. At what temperature should one heat juice?

I drain the warmish juice into a sippy cup. He takes a sip. Hands me back the cup. “I don’t like it.”

Ha! I’ve won, I think. But then who is the person getting out, pouring out the hot juice, replacing it with cold? Converted again.

The pig, too, with its hot, juicy fat wins the argument. Pig is persuasive.


I read something the other day about a woman getting her family’s priorities in order. Love god first, then love husband, then love children, she wrote. If you take it to the next level, what you love keeps spiraling. Love eyeballs. Love pigs. Become a vegetarian. The vegetarians lack pig fat, ritual, and the renaming of products for other products. Even mock chicken they call “mock” chicken. The chef work involved to make vegetarian food is mostly chopping, not digging in or butchering or rendering. I love the hard work of finding crab meat even in the tiny tendrils of legs reminiscent of insects’. Maybe, though, work isn’t the way to get to God. Maybe, the easiness of tofu is.

Convert means to turn and look the other way. Max says, “Look here,” so I look. It’s easy. The doing is as easy as the saying. What do I see? I see the lilacs he calls birds and the squirrels he calls punch guys and the hummingbirds with spiderlike webs and I am born again. I call my pig cheek, pork. That is easier too.


My friend Jesse called me the other day. Jesse’s a former tow truck company owner, former bouncer, former meth head, present adventurer. No one really grins anymore, but Jesse grins.

“I found one.”

“One what?”

“A pig’s head.”

“From where.”

“My friend. He raises pigs down in Camp Verde. He’ll give us a baby head.”

I had mentioned to Jesse that I wanted to cook a pig’s head but now I’m having second thoughts. Jesse knows everyone. Even pig farmers, apparently. I should have told someone who had no friends in Camp Verde who grew pigs. I should have told someone who had no friends.

But if that Jesse and I were going to do this thing, we had to convince others to join us. We couldn’t eat one pig’s head between the two of us. It would be wasteful. We wanted to start a movement. We needed to persuade some people this was a good idea. Not just flavor-wise. Not just adventure. But that it’s a good thing to do. Head-to-tail. Hard to do. Confront what you’re eating. Literally face-to-face. If we’re going to do this thing, let’s do it. Let’s make the big bigger. Come on. Come with us. One of us isn’t enough to achieve critical mass. But two is enough for missionary work.


When Erik brings Zoe home from school, he and she find Max and me in our cowboy boots with gloves on. We are drinking hot juice. This time, apple. Out of a yellow cup. We are eating packing peanuts from Microsoft—the kind that are made out of corn starch. We offer some to Zoe. She tries, one. Says it needs salt. Max and I nod and shake salt onto the Styrofoam. We sing Styrofoam, Peanut, Styrofoam, Peanut until we convince Erik to try one.

“Tastes like Pirate’s Booty,” he says. We’ll see if we can convince Erik’s mom to try some next. She’s a vegetarian so I don’t have hope she’ll join the pig-head-eating sect but the Styrofoam-peanut sect—a good back up choice, if all other bacon-y persuasions fail.


NICOLE WALKER’s Quench Your Thirst with Salt won the Zone 3 Award for Creative Nonfiction and was released in June 2013. She is the author of a collection of poems, This Noisy Egg  (Barrow Street 2010) and edited, with Margot Singer, Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction, (Bloomsbury, 2013) and with Rebecca Campbell—7 Artists, 7 Rings—an Artist’s Game of Telephone for the Huffington Post. A recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment from the Arts, she’s nonfiction editor at Diagram and Associate Professor at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona.