Cilantro

Sunlight faded. Time counted. I covered and uncovered. Frosty mornings. Sunny afternoons. Both spread away in quick wind exhales. Cilantro. This last bit of freshness from the garden started late. The four seeds stuck in the bottom corner of a partially ripped envelope were an afterthought. The directions told me to stagger the planting because the plants bolt so quickly. I followed instructions. Planted only a few, but then, I hadn't paid attention. I couldn't control them. An electric jolted snap of morning hair, knotted stems and seemingly too few leaves buried in extra, unexpected swirls of green. I harvested my attempt quickly, flowers and all, and then buried my mistake. I received the heirloom seeds for free, part of a library project, but I hadn’t respected the past so easily given, thinking its existence would take care of itself.

In midsummer, I received a brand new packet illustrated with flowers and flowered with the cursive name, cilantro-coriander.

“You still have time. If you plant now, you’ll still get something,” the fair vendor encouraged.

I heard her words, but did nothing, overwhelmed by the fullness of the package and guilted by the masking tape seal on the heirloom envelope left unfinished.

I didn’t return to the idea until the garden was cleaned of its carrot rows. I planted alone and marked the foot expanse with a trowel, expecting complaints from my father’s lips about leaving tools outside uncleaned and rusting. He didn’t. He didn’t notice.

In late summer heat and drought, I watered the seeds. Through September the plants still small resembled the aspect I had expected. Autumn began. I continued to cover the cilantro plants, believing I could make things right with them that I had not the first time around. I was careful, diligent, but I couldn't control the light.

I took the dog out last night and felt my heart thud into the dirt. I saw crisp, burned ice. I wanted to blame my dad for doing me a favor I didn't ask for. He must have uncovered the plants and hung the dog's borrowed towel that morning because I had forgot. He must have. . . But no. He had no memory of cilantro. I pushed out air through my nose and let my eyes trace the cloud. No. It had been the winter squall mixed with autumn rain that clattered leaves not yet colored into the October grass blades still reaching upwards but not growing, like my cilantro. Sometimes, things just end.

In the morning I chopped and boiled. My knife skills were not quite fine motor movements, but they became more even. I still envied Dona Cata's thin, sharp guides and tick, tick chops that dazzled black frying pans with pieces sizzling as stars. Dona Cata's cilantro potato salad. It was one of the first recipes made accessible to me in Guatemala. It was one of the first ones I shared in Wisconsin. The cilantro green, green enough for a St. Patrick's Day meal made by a family that always wore orange. The white potatoes not put in the ground by the Good Friday standard shared by both factions, a reminder that my dad's air worn hands valued old knowledge but not necessarily traditional standards. And mine? I sprinkled pepper and coriander. Coriander was cilantro, after all, though I was slow to learn such facts.

Each bite would somehow be the mixture of histories, heritages, seeds, and. . . The seeds? The heirloom seed project. I had no seeds to return. It wasn’t required, but still. The season had turned too quickly. I had barely been able to grow the plant.

The onion sizzle drew my dad to the kitchen. "What's that concoction? I think I can have that with chicken."

"I don't want to tell you, because then maybe you won't eat it."

"Cilantro," he accented the 'o' like an 'a'. I know. I got used to that you know. It’s distinct, but it's fine."

I tapped to barely rub with one finger, one leaf, the last leaf from the colander. It's the final leaf of cilantro. It's the final fresh plant the garden will provide. I was saddened, more than I had been before in the acceptance that every stem, leaf, and flower I dried or froze, now must also disappear. How many seeds did I have? Just enough for myself, I feared. Over the next few months, the chill ache would grow larger in the freezer in order to combat the one in my stomach. I didn’t blow the seeds away. For now, I could store their inheritance inside.

I touched my fingerprints to my nose. The scent lingered on my hands after the scrape into the garbage bag. The leaf could almost be a four leaf clover. It wasn't, but somehow the cilantro represented luck enough. Luck enough to still be here, to have the time to try again.

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