Breadcrumb #491


I held forty years of woman in my hands
feet blazed copper from ten hour shifts,
I would massage Vaporub, feel each crack,
scrape, cut, blister, sneaker mold & corn

Ama’s breathing: a bouquet of air
longing, a bloom I learned
from her with every breath:  
a simple forever   

hands a dusk, open   
nothing, save possibility  
when she would dinner:
pieces of meat with bone, water,  

chile verde sauce: savory in shades,  
the bone velvet on my tongue, opens
to marrow: coarse and soft like soil,   
I sucked the dying   

& let go of words:  
a nakedness in hot desert,
brilliant rays bleed on me
the ritual of sacrifice,  

a towards, a refusal,
a never, a courage,   
born with all this, oh
Ama, I’m still

light exhausts into everything,  
expecting nothing back

• • •

Breadcrumb #489


In middle school, I took Chorus as an elective. It’s what all the popular girls did; I remember standing behind them and looking at their ponytails, the length of their shorts, their tennis shoes. I was still learning to mimic their looks: I wore New Balance tennis shoes even though they’d moved on to Adidas, and I had some clothes from the Gap, but my parents had yet to drive me to the Abercrombie & Fitch in the upscale mall an hour away in Atlanta. I enrolled to observe them, but the opportunity hardly felt worth the embarrassment I felt every time I opened my mouth.

We were graded on participation, and on our voices. The choirmaster sent us one-by-one into a private recording booth where we sang into a tape recorder. In that room, just off the main classroom, my hands trembled as I hit “record.” I could hardly bring my voice above a whispery rasp as I sang “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” My heart beat in my chest with the fear my classmates would hear me through the glass windows of the tiny room.

I felt shame often at that age, over everything from the way my thighs spread to the margins of my shorts when I sat down, to my freckles, to the blush that spread across my chest every time I was anxious, exposing me all the more. But I wasn’t the only embarrassed by singing: even the gifted seem to struggle with it. Even my friend Ashley, who had thick red hair and a beautiful soprano voice.

Ashley was more popular than I was, and I was grateful to be her friend. I don’t know how it started, but one day, she began talking to me. Before I knew it, I was over at her house watching movies; I went to my first school dance with her, and she helped me do my makeup. Once, I got my period during a birthday sleepover at her house. Too embarrassed to tell her, her mom, or anyone else, I went to the bathroom over and over again to clean up rather than asking for a pad. Eventually, I fell asleep, and when I woke up in the morning, my yellow pajama pants, decorated with cartoon sheep, were stained an ugly brown at the crotch. I was the first up, so I changed out of them immediately, and hoped I hadn’t stained the sheets I’d slept between.

Ashley was the most gifted vocalist at our school, and our teacher and our peers treated her accordingly. She always got the solos, and I listened to her sing them in class over and over again, rapt.

When we were assigned parts for our performance at the school’s pre-Christmas assembly, one note in the arrangement was so high that only two girls could hit it: Ashley and Sarah. While Ashley was well liked, Sarah was not. She lacked the self-consciousness needed to survive one’s early teenage years. Although she wasn’t skinny, she wore shorts: a middle school sin. At school, she was friendly even when people rolled their eyes at her, tried to let her know she wasn’t welcome at their table, or in the corner of the gym they’d occupied during the school dance. She was mocked often, but it seemed to have no effect on her. I heard people whisper about her, and the pity I felt was mixed with fear for myself.

Like everyone else, I was rooting for Ashley to hit the note with clarity. But when it came time, we only heard Sarah’s voice soar above the school band, reaching the rafters of our school’s gym.  


The men I’ve dated have all made comments on my voice. They’ve had ample opportunity to. As I grew older and more confident, I started to sing in the shower, in the car. Every time Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” and Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” comes on the radio, I belt along with them, although sometimes an octave too low, trying to avoid the high notes where I crack and falter.

In college, my boyfriend told me just before I met his family that I should avoid singing in front of them. He told me it wasn’t that my voice was bad—it was that I got “too serious” when I sang. Too into it. His parents would be uncomfortable if they heard me, he told me. (I understood: he would be embarrassed.)

Years later, I met someone playing Rock Band at a party. I sang to No Doubt and then we held hands on the couch. He was in a band and told me he really liked my voice. He played Rock Band all the time, but usually not with someone else who could sing. My voice was the first thing drew him to me. Not my appearance, or even my mind. And this was my favorite thing about him. While we were dating, my stepmom asked me what he was like. I had almost nothing good to say. “Well, there must be something great about him, right?” He didn’t call me when he said he would. He was hardly available. But for a few months, I listened to the same songs over and over again in my bedroom, singing until I drove my roommate insane.

Two years ago, my boyfriend and I drove from New Orleans to New York. As usual, I sang and he laughed. I asked him for what felt like the hundredth time, What’s so fucking funny? I went on: Is it the way my voice sounds? Or the way I switch keys? Or your own discomfort with the fact that I’m singing at all.

Maybe all three, he said.

I like to sing! Stop teasing me, I said.

I like it when you sing, too, he said. My laughter expresses my joy.

What does he like about it, though? The tone and cadence, or the fact that I’m going for it, windows down, even though I sound awful? I know what stopped Ashley, all those years ago, from letting her voice reach new volume. The sounds we emit are unruly: an aspect of the self we can do very little to control or shape. Leaking out like the blood on my pajama pants, and also leaving a stain somewhere inside. It is sometimes easier to stay quiet than to try and fail.

• • •

Breadcrumb #488


I have to say “Drive safe” when my husband leaves. If I don’t, he might get into an accident.

    I have to say “I love you” at the end of every phone call. If I don’t, and my mom or dad die, they might die thinking that I didn’t love them.

    I have to text “I love you” to all of them before I turn off my phone on the plane. If I don’t, they might think that I died mad at them.

    The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, is the go-to reference for diagnosing mental illnesses. It contains approximately 297 diagnoses of mental illnesses, under a bevy of codes. They include codes for:

  • adult psychological abuse by nonspouse or nonpartner, suspected

  • adjustment disorder, with disturbance of conduct

  • mild neurocognitive disorder due to multiple etiologies.    

    I’m still looking for the applicable code for a two-year old girl who thinks she killed her mom with her thoughts. The code for a little girl whose mother disappeared a week after she wished her dead. The code for a little girl who doesn’t understand what spinal meningitis is or what a hospital quarantine means. Because everyone knows that little girls can’t hurt people with their thoughts.

     Except  . . .

     When I say “Drive safe,” my husband looks at me and sighs.

    “I will,” he says, his eyes tired.

    When I say, “I love you,” my mother pauses a little through the phone before saying, “I love you, too.”

    When I text “I love you,” they know what I really mean.

• • •

Breadcrumb #487


Sam thought about spadefoot toads. They were a dream so real he could hold them in his fist. His parents had gone out to see them when they’d first come to the apartment. They’d trekked into the woods and found the crater that filled with water one night a year every April. On that night, they’d stood at the water’s edge, watched the spadefoots climb up from their ground homes, and deposit eggs in the pool. It was a beautiful thing, his mother told him, the promise of life passed from parents to their young.

His parents planned to take him one day to see the spadefoots, but that promise was given before his father left on assignment.

In the meantime, he amused himself as best he could. He squeezed his toes together and pretended they were the shovel-like toad feet and dug up pennies and fluff from beneath the sofa cushions. Often, he croaked. Sam was that type of kid who felt moved to croak --  in his bedroom, at the laundromat, and in his school. Kids called him names and his teachers shook their head at him, but he didn’t care.

His mother didn’t mind the noise.  She built him a forest out leaves that she taped to his bedroom walls.  On winter nights, she strummed woodland melodies on her ukulele. She encouraged Sam to supply the lyrics, and they’d dance around the room.

When Sam was nine, his mother told him that Cheyenne and Troy were moving into the basement apartment. Sam was not impressed by this development. Cheyenne, a nurse his mother worked with at the hospital, phoned his mother at inconvenient times to complain about her ex-husband. Troy, her son, wasn’t any better. He belonged to a crew who called him retard. They were the reason Sam stayed inside at recess and read nature books.

“Help Troy feel welcome here,” his mother said.

“He’s very loud,” Sam said.

“Okay, frog man.”

“It’s toad man,” he corrected. “Get it right.”

His mother clasped a hand over her heart in mock embarrassment. “How could I get that wrong? What is my penance?”

Sam deliberated for a moment. “Five gummy worms.”


Two weeks later, Sam went outside to count fireflies. Troy was whacking tennis balls at rabbits.   

“Wusses,” Troy said.

“They aren’t,” Sam said. “Rabbits are tough.”

Troy shrugged.

“They kill their babies,” Sam said.


“The dads do,” Sam explained. “They get jealous of the babies. The mom rabbits give them too much love.”

“What dicks,” Troy said.

Dicks was a dirty word. It’s what Sam’s uncle called his father.

“My father is a dick,” Troy said.

Sam handed him a stray tennis ball. They were teammates without a coach.

On nights when his mother worked late, Sam filled the indoor forest with a tribe of new friends. Troy, Aunt Cheyenne, and a few kids from the neighborhood ate pizza and watched the weather report. It was April and the first downpour was around the corner. On the night of the first rainstorm, the spadefoot toads emerged. This year, Sam, his mother and the other boys would find them.

On the night of the rain, Sam’s mother had to work late, but told him he could go as long as he stayed with the other boys. They were a band of wellie clad explorers, and the spadefoots were calling them to join them at the enchanted pool.

On the night of the first rainstorm, the spadefoot toads emerged.

As they traveled deeper into the woods, the apartment building vanished from view. The only light came from their flashlights, and the soundtrack was the throaty tune of the spadefoots.  They were close. Sam felt it.

“What are you doing?” Troy asked. “Stop dancing.”

Sam hadn’t realized he had been dancing, but he couldn’t stop. He was happy, and it was okay to dance.  His mother and father danced on the night they’d seen the spadefoots.

“It’s fine,” Sam said. “My father---

“He’s crazy,” Billy Stoner said.

Troy’s lips twitched into a smile. “Just retarded.”   

Sam flushed.  The music inside him died.  It had been months since they’d called him a retard. Retarded was too much homework, deflated soccer balls, when his father failed to call.

Sam grabbed a rock and tossed it at Troy’s chest.

War descended upon the woods.  Troy hurled a rock in his direction, and then they launched themselves at each other. Sam fought for the woods and the spadefoots. He kicked, punched, and scratched his way through the wall of belligerent boys, and when he broke free, he ran after the music.

The woods seemed darker with every step.  The others were ghosts of a past world. The music was his future, a fragile one.  This future was pulling in different directions. The music was everywhere and nowhere.  He strained his ears for the throaty melody, but it eluded him. He turned right, then left.  He was back at the sight of the brawl, but the boys were gone. They were walking back to the house, or they’d never really come. Either way, he’d promised to stay with them, but he couldn’t go back. The spadefoots had been counting on him and they were boys that ruined the night.

Sam sat down on a stump and waited for her to find him.

She arrived after the rain, but face was streaked with black rivers and her smile was missing.

“Troy?” he asked.

“Is fine.”  

Sam nodded. He’d fought with the group and left them.

“I’m sorry,” She said.


She didn’t answer. “Climb on my back.”

He wrapped his arms around her neck and allowed her to carry him through the woods. He imagined he was a robin with a broken wing and she was returning him to their nest.  

“You know,” she said. “Everything’s going to be okay,”

Sam nodded. He could see the square top of their apartment building and beyond it, the moon with craters deep enough to shelter a dozen spadefoot toads.

• • •