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María Isabel Alvarez

The Perfect Folding of a Green Banana Leaf

In the kitchen, my grandmother signals instructions,

her dough-caked fingers pointing:

tú—la carne,

tú—la salsa.

The room steams with pork, sheared beef,

red peppers tossed in a bowl. On the floor,

the scatters of tinfoil and knotted string.

“How many tamales will we make this year?”

I ask, but nobody is listening.

We fold, we cut, we knead, we thread

to the beat of what came before us:

three-stone campfires, corn-stalk houses,

faces blurred by steam.

At the table, I try to assemble my first tamal,

a slippery parcel dripping with sauce.

From it, an olive shoots out, rolls to the floor,

crosses the line dividing tile from carpet.

Behind it, the reddened trail of a former life…

My grandmother cups her hands over mine,

guides the shape of the dough, the layer of meat,

replaces the olive—

the eye in the center of everything.


Born in Guatemala and raised in Arizona, María Isabel Alvarez received her MFA from Arizona State University. Her writing has been published in Black Warrior Review, Sonora Review, Colorado Review, Gulf Coast, Arts & Letters, and Puerto del Sol, among others, and was awarded first prize in the Blue Earth Review Flash Fiction contest. She is the recipient of fellowships and grants from the Tennessee Arts Commission, the Sundress Academy for the Arts, and the Hedgebrook Writers Residency. Follow her on Twitter: @maria_i_alvarez

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