Issue 3 / Nonfiction

Nonfiction by Isaiah Zeke Swango


Good Enough To Eat

  “We searching for our food that is all, that is all it is. We look at someone and see something sweet to suck and all that is for food. It boosts your spirit up, up to go far…. This is what I will tell you of the high-science.” Dark Shamans: Kanaima and the Poetics of Violent Death

Dad loved to cook. As a child I would watch him prepare great banquets composed of barbequed baby back ribs, unhusked corn on the cob, and flocks of pre-packaged drum sticks grilled especially for me. I remember the living room gulping smoke until the air grew thick with a hickory fog and how well it mingled with Neil Young & Crazy Horse as they trickled through my dad’s speakers like a brook. He and his friends would dine in the manner of khans after a successful campaign of looting and warfare, consuming meat and drink in royal excess while my father, glowing with an infernal pride, grinned wild-eyed and sweaty over the reveling horde. Silverware was never allotted at these feasts. He always insisted that barbeque was meant to be eaten with one’s hands—anything more and you were deemed a sham, just another half-assed pretender at life. Sweet Baby Ray’s served as blood while I was taught to pop bones from sockets, and like a fledgling under the wing of a hawk, I tore at things once living beneath my father’s cool shadow.

Eating was a sensual act for my father, and I believe it replaced the act of making love. Thirty years after the divorce, he was still enamored with my mother and always remained loyal to her, carrying out the responsibilities of raising me and my two half brothers in a lifelong display of penance. He was admittedly devoured by guilt at having failed at marriage, and throughout my upbringing would disappear into his room for weeks at a time, wading in a sea of aluminum soda cans and candy bar wrappers as he watched 1950s film noir or read true crime books about serial killers. Depression, romance, and a profound fascination with murder coalesced to make the man who raised me all alone. They chewed at him like termites, and it was in the act of consumption that he communed with his starving soul.

He had always referred to his upbringing as a “loveless pressure cooker” and vowed never to allow the abuse he suffered to boil over into our relationship. This promise backfired, however, in that it caused him to choke down any emotion he felt may threaten my love for him, and I could see the frustration surge and build below his jovial posture.

Ultimately, I witnessed my father get eaten alive. Cancer had been nibbling away at his pancreas for an indeterminate amount of time, labeling him with what he described as an “expiration date.” In light of such a grim revelation, I asked if I could make him a meal. This excited him to no end, as he was not used to being the recipient of his son’s cooking. Unfortunately, I was not aware of how fast cancer’s warpath blazed, causing that inevitable loss of appetite that occurs when death is near. Long nights I laid on the opposite side of his bedroom wall, wide awake, listening to him vomit green bile into the sky-blue bucket I emptied every morning into the toilet’s greedy, porcelain maw. All the while the final dish I prepared for him sat and rotted in the combined juices of raw meat and dairy, spoiling the flesh of some meaningless dead goat while my father’s life was being audibly wrenched away. A microscopic army had denied him his son’s last offering. I felt defeated and ashamed.

As I laid adjacent to my dad’s dying form, I pondered the words he shared with me a few days earlier. He confessed feeling as though everything he saw stared back and salivated hungrily over him, that a pink phantom in the shape of his cancerous organ perpetually loomed across his vision, and that in his dreams he was being visited by the emaciated corpses of those he loved. Suddenly, the true horror of existence sank its teeth into my brain and my eyes lit up like black stars to the panoramic death grip that surrounds us all. I could feel the very cells of my body being gnawed at by those same vast rows of teeth that grind planets to pulp, and the blip that is our history was made known to me as nothing more than one long, anguished moan.

In the end, he was ready to go. The disease that ravaged his body cleaved at the layers of fat he had accumulated over the years, and for the first time in my life, I could see the face my mother had fallen in love with. I thought how handsome he was laying there, ice-white with a smirk of satisfaction strewn across his face, cold beads of sweat still glistening like pearls. The hungry ghost so busily at work inside him fled, and in its wake left behind this hunk of meat gone sour. There’s nothing in this world I despise more than picky eaters.

 dingbatsmaller Isaiah Zeke Swango is from a little casino town at the southern end of Washington State called La Center. The nephew of a serial killer, grandson of a Midwest magic realist, and raised by a gambling poet, Zeke has spent his life travelling the globe in search of truth. After being horribly disappointed by this endeavor, he began writing stories that attempt to convey the strangeness of human experience. He currently lives in Seattle and attends school with the intention of researching the influence western esotericism has had on English literature. Zeke likes goats, black metal, and all things Lovecraftian. Selected by Ashley C. Ford.

What I would like to see more of in literature is an acknowledgment and cultivation of the weird. Great art transcends this world and plops us somewhere else entirely. Dante put Beatrice on God’s throne and dragged us through the bowels of hell; Shelley stitched dead men together in order to present us with a very honest image of ourselves. I think supernatural horror is a powerful medium that humanity has used to express its plight ever since people began telling stories. I would like to see it taken more seriously.

  Image ©elbatogato via Creative Commons.