That voice in my head: maybe not my own, but the mutter of my grandmother, or her mother, as they wiped down counters, dressed their children, cut up chickens one by one—cheer up, cheer up, cheer up….
Cheer up, the chop of the cleaver. Cheer up, clean break of a thigh. Cheer up the gizzards, the heart, a liver glistening in hand. I wonder: can they pause, stunned to silence by viscera? Evidence of interiority, shellacked by what contains them. They must have felt—how else to put it?—a visceral tug: reminder of one’s own glutinous heart, and the liver so mysterious, filtering, always filtering, the bladder secreting gall—organ meat, so unlike exterior flesh.
More tender? More alive, once exposed on a grandmother’s palm. Cheer up, cheer up, cheer up she hums, and fries cubes of liver with circles of onion, cracks the shells of hard-boiled eggs, renders schmaltz from chicken fat, chops them all together in the shallow wooden bowl, rocking with the rounded chopper, twin blades curved like scythes, wood handle worn smooth.
Cheer up, cheer up, cheer up: a mantra to work by, chop it up chop it up chop it up, until everything mingles in one lovely mound. Apron dotted with blood, hands plump and clean, she stops a moment in her rocking and listens. Listens for grandchildren who clamor for chopped liver on thick slices of challah. Who cling in more ways than one. She listens for all those children who need cheering up, even those yet to be born.
* a line from “Another Empty Window Dipped in Milk,” by Kelli Russell Agodon
Brenda Miller is the author of three essay collections: Listening against the Stone (Skinner House Books, 2011), Blessing of the Animals (EWU Press, 2009), and Season of the Body (Sarabande Books, 2002). She is also co-author of Tell it Slant: Creating, Refining and Publishing Creative Nonfiction, 2nd Edition (McGraw-Hill, 2012) and The Pen and the Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World (www.penandbell.com, Skinner House Books, 2012). Her work has received six Pushcart Prizes and has been published in numerous journals. She is a Professor of English at Western Washington University and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Bellingham Review.
Artwork by Gabrielle Katina