The Common Good
May 2006

Fish Wings

by Katie Chilton | May 2006

Driving east on Jackson Street one morning,
only a couple of blocks from the bungalow on Abe Street
where a few years ago hundreds of people claimed

Driving east on Jackson Street one morning,
only a couple of blocks from the bungalow on Abe Street
where a few years ago hundreds of people claimed
to see the reflection of the Virgin in an upstairs window,
I noticed that the diner with the orange awnings
was advertising “fish wings” and found myself wondering
whether fish wings might be some Asian delicacy,
Laotian perhaps, flying-fish wings netted
on some sun-jeweled morning, flash-frozen
and then flown across half the world, to be fried tempura-crisp
and dipped in some exotic sauce: to taste, perhaps, like home
to someone newly arrived; and then began considering
how everyone must have some haunting food memories,
remembering the friend in grad school who insisted
on growing okra in his Wisconsin backyard and the girl
in my Brownie troop whose father liked eggshell sandwiches,
the crunching potato-chip noise as he ate them
after putting the crushed empty shells between slices
of white bread spread with Best Foods mayonnaise;
next summoning up the ghostly foods I’ll never have again:
backyard loquats and our great-grandmother’s sugar cookies,
beerocks and maplenut push-ups from the school cafeteria,
those magnificently chewy bearclaws from the bakery
on Olive Street next to the Gillis Branch Library;
starter bread and cinnamon bow ties from that place in Soquel,
and the molded ice creams our grandmother used to buy
somewhere in Fresno, back when she was still able to cook
holiday dinners on that old electric stove with the buttons
that glowed blue and red and yellow and green,
and for dessert there would be those elegant cold sculptures,
each one with its thin coating hand-painted like old china:
pumpkins, turkeys, Christmas trees, Santa Clauses: oh,
that tiny crackling sound as we broke open the delicate shells
with the tips of her buttercup-patterned silver teaspoons.

Katie Chilton grew up in Fresno, California. She now lives in Joliet, Illinois, where she sings with the vocal ensemble Triskelion.

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