Eating Pig

The Swineherd, 1888
(Oil on canvas, 73.03 x 93.03 cm)
BY Paul Gauguin
Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Galactic, ancient and dystopic, mostly it was memory that brought him to the feast. When he was distraught, when he was alone, which was all too often, clinging to the precipice of disconnection, a little man, hombre pequeñito, he thought of the feasts of his childhood. Always there was a pig and always a man cooking it in the backyard, hired expressly for the purpose. Always the cook drank rum, from the moment he arrived at dawn, and always he had the same name, Joaquín. The process took all day (no way to fast-cook pork, especially on the bone) so that the pig, or two if it was a big gathering, would be ready by five. Always it was sunny and he was surrounded by cousins, mostly older, some younger, whom he liked in varying degrees based on their ability to allay the loneliness he dreaded even then, at the age of seven, when the word was not yet in his vocabulary. The men played cards in the bohío. They argued, they joked, they drank beer, they farted. He remembered his aunts, his two grandmothers, his great grandmother, cooking huge pots of beans, boiling yuca, frying plantains. Always. Many memories or one memory repeated with many variations centered around the pig, spread-eagled over the coals, and Joaquín basting, always basting, the pig skin crackling, sweating out the fat that dribbled to the fire, making it sputter and flame. Its eyes half-closed, its eyelashes wispy and dreamful, its snout curling upward as it cooked. Joaquín usually kept the head. The cheeks are the best part, he’d say, taking a bite.

The island itself a prison, the smell of tropical rot floating over the grass, the trees. The white sand of the beaches and the sun the only permanence.

He doesn’t remember the taste, or what happened afterward, whether people left or stayed for days, whether all the happiness contained in the scene was a permanent state or a temporary condition. Ser o estar. Heaven or hell. Beyond that day there were people sick and dying, wives and husbands betrayed, fortunes lost and made and lost again. There was indifference and heartlessness, bombs exploding all around the city, torturers torturing, corpses on street corners, mouths full of ants, mothers weeping, fathers wailing. Always was not always. Family members leaving, family members left behind, some in prison, some outside. The island itself a prison, the smell of tropical rot floating over the grass, the trees. The white sand of the beaches and the sun the only permanence. Forget the feast and the family, forget the dancing and the card-playing. His grandmother dreamed of being a bird, his mother of being a fish. No one dreamed of being a worm but that’s what they all became, burrowing into the dung heap, then trying to burrow out. Eating pig, you know anything as fulsome and healthy? The moment, the cooking, the weeping, the wailing, the memory, the memory.

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