Breadcrumb #496


I can say that pain has made me pious. But, not in the Godly sense. I was a devoted person. However, my devotion was to my nostrils that have proven to me that they can take years of abuse without any repercussion. My family calls me an alley cat, because I’ve come so close to death a number of times. But, I keep getting up and going back to what keeps me going… Perico.

When I was a kid, my family left the island of Puerto Rico and moved to New York. The South Bronx. There was a lot for us to learn. You see, although there were tons of Puerto Ricans around us, this was not Puerto Rico at all. We arrived in late November and it was fucking freezing. I had never experienced weather like this before. Everyone seemed to love it, except me. We had to cover every inch of our bodies and looked like robots trying to walk down the street from all the layers we had to put on. But, despite the that we didn’t have the Palm trees surrounding us or tropical weather all year long, there was nothing but Puerto Rican culture all around us. You couldn’t walk down the street without hearing Salsa music or without smelling Rice, Beans and fried chuletas. There wasn’t a window that did not have the Puerto Rican Flag waving from it. Puerto Rico was alive and well in the South Bronx. Those that were born on the island talked about nothing but “la isla del encanto.” We missed it terribly and mourned our lives back home on the island. But things were different. Life was different and New York brought hope, dique. Apparently, life was better for us here. Work was plentiful and we weren’t starving. Well, that’s what they all said. Because, no one wants to face reality. No one wants to admit that coming here maybe wasn’t the best idea we all thought it was. There may have not been a hurricane that ran through this town. But people were living in conditions far worse than after Maria hit my island. The lobbies of our apartment buildings were filled with garbage just thrown on the ground. The elevators reeked of dried urine. The roaches and mice owned the building and came to collect their rent on nightly basis. It was horrific to say the very least. Within a matter of months, Papi, had used up all of the money he had in the bank. He didn’t get work at all aside from some side jobs painting and cleaning apartments. So, in order to get food on the table, he sold Marijuana. Actually, our apartment was the last stop of the Marijuana factory in the building. Our next-door neighbor Miguel, used to grow the shit out of an extra bedroom he had in his apartment and then cut, dry and bag it in his living room. He had a three bedroom for him and his brother. The other bedroom was turned into the botanical fucking garden. The room even had a green light y todo. One day Miguel needed my father to stop by to pick up some finished product to store in our apartment.

“José, tengo que ir a casa de miguel a buscar algo. Ponte pantalones.” Papi didn’t like any of us in the house alone. So, he always demanded that we get dressed to accompany him for any of his errands.

“Pa, I don’t want to go his house. I’ll stay here and play with games.” My cousin had lent me his playstation and I wanted to play God of War.

“No no no no. Ju go wit me.” I immediately sucked my teeth and threw my hands in the air. “Oye, ponte te bien.” Papi said with that look in his eye that made me second guess everything in life. I knew I wasn’t going to win this fight. So, I just went into my room and decided to take my time. I hoped that he would get annoyed and just go without me. But I wasn’t so lucky. He eventually came into my room and didn’t even say a word. He stood by the door and watched me as I dressed. Completely horrified, I got up from the floor grabbed my pants, and got dressed. I never even made eye contact with my father. I knew that looking at him would create a weird moment as he would have felt obligated to say something profound to me. Ever since he had to step up and watch us, Papi felt that he needed to drop some pebble of knowledge on us every once in a while. None of it was useful. Just some old Puerto Rican nonsense. There are times that I just wish that I had nothing to do with my family. Especially, my father. I mean, they didn’t do anything to me at all. But, at times I just feel like I needed to be away.

Far away from it all.

As we approached the hallway that we shared with eight other apartments, you could hear the sound of the radio playing in someone’s apartment. It was always the same, Freestlye music. Cynthia, Johnny-O, Coro and George Lamond were played so much, you would think they all lived in the building with us. Miguel’s apartment was completely unlocked so, we just walked right in. Miguel wasn’t the typical dealer in the neighborhood. He took care of the building and looked out for his neighbors. So, he wasn’t afraid of getting robbed or losing anything because he knew that the building would look out for him. That also included letting him know if the cops were on their way as well. The minute we walked in, I saw a thin cloud of smoke that surrounded the entire apartment. The apartment smelled like an old stale sock that needed to be thrown the fuck out. There wasn’t much furniture in the house besides a beige loveseat and sofa that was covered in plastic and a cocktail table that had stacks of VHS tapes, empty dirty glasses and completely filled ash trays. As we sat there, we can hear Miguel singing from the kitchen.

He took care of the building and looked out for his neighbors

“Jack, Jack, he’s a Lego maniac…. Jack, Jack, he’s a Lego maniac…”

Miguel constantly sang this song and it was annoying as all hell. Papi called out for Miguel as we sat down in the loveseat.

“Miguel, estamos aqui.”

“In the kitchen, ya voy.” Miguel yells back and then continues his Lego song. Within seconds, Miguel walked through a colorful beaded curtain that separated the kitchen from the living room. In both hands, he held the mother of all calderos filled with both nickel and dime bags. Now, Miguel was an extremely thin light-skinned Puerto Rican with an extremely large afro. Which made the caldero look even bigger in his hands.

“Bueno, here it is. I’ve been up all night getting this ready for you.” Said Miguel as he walked towards us from the kitchen.

“Since when do you bag your own shit, Miguel?” Papi said shaking his leg like he always did when he was high as a kite. You see, Papi started getting high a while back and we all knew it. But what Papi doesn’t want us to know is that he started on the harder shit. We know he’s using dope but, ain’t nobody going to disrespect Papi and bring it to his attention and since Mami is half crazy, we can’t rely on her to say anything. My sister, Xiomara, constantly cried about it. But no one her paid any attention to her or us for that matter. I mean no one really gave a fuck about another bunch of Puerto Rican kids from the island. That’s why Xiomara ran away from home at least four different times and each time she came back home kicking and screaming.

“I started bagging my own since my bullshit ass primo got caught selling to a cop. You ain’t gotta be scared little man. My snake is in his tank in my room.” Miguel said as I immediately got up and moved across the room. You see, Miguel would let his pet garter snake sliver through his hair most times and it would always freak me out because when the snake moved, his hair would move around as if his skull was caving in. One time, his snake poked his head out of Miguel’s hair and almost touched my ear. I panicked and everyone laughed at me.

“Papi, I have to pee. Can I go back home?” I asked my father as an excuse to go back home and not come back.

“Little man, you can use the baño here. It’s right there in the hallway.” Miguel said to me as he rolled up a joint for him and my father. Defeated, I got up and walked down the hall and opened the second door on the right. When I opened that door, I smelled the most heavenly smell I could have even imagined. Every inch of the room was covered with plant life. The room was completely dark except for a few green lights scattered all around the room. The room could have been an extension of the Botanical Gardens, there were so much greenery there. The smell was so strong in that room that after five seconds of having the door open, the aroma snuck into the sala where Papi and Miguel sat. They immediately knew that I had walked into the wrong room.

“Little man, not that room. Close that door!” Miguel said as he got up and walked in my direction. I slammed the door and went into the bathroom. I couldn’t believe what I saw, and I couldn’t get that smell out of my head.

Later that evening, when my younger brothers Edwin and Mike got home, I told them what I saw.

“We have to take some of Papi’s stash. You won’t believe the smell that came out of that room.” I told Edwin and Mike.

“Tu ta loco? Do you know what kind of trouble we can get into?” Mike said as he changed into his PJs.

“You’re such a pussy, Mike. Come on José, you I will get some and take it to school tomorrow.” Edwin was always down to do some crazy shit with me.

“Bet, when Papi and Moms go to sleep, I’ll go into the closet and get a few bags and put it in your bookbag.” Edwin and I shook on it and went about the night.

The next day, Edwin and I couldn’t even wait to get to school. We skipped breakfast and ran down the stairs.

“Show it to me.” Edwin said.

“Not here, loco. Let’s wait until we get to school at least.” As soon as I said this, Mike comes over with a fucking pancake in one hand and a boiled huevo in another.

“I’m not saying shit to ya’ll. When ya’ll stupid asses get caught, don’t say shit.”

“Shut the fuck up, you fat bastard.” Edwin yelled as he walked away from him.”

“It’s alright, Mike. We’ll be fine.” I said as I put my arm around Mike and made our way to school.

After school, Edwin and I met up in the school yard and found a place that we felt was discreet. We decided that behind the bleachers in the field would be a perfect place to light up some grass. I immediately open my bag and pulled out two joints.

“When did you roll it up?” Miguel asked.

“During lunch time. Pedro came out with me and showed me how he does it. I gave him one and left two for us.” I said.

“Shit, I don’t have a lighter.” Miguel blurted.

“Don’t worry, I got that covered too.” I shouted with all the pride in Puerto Rico. I let Edwin take his first pull. He immediately started coughing and I could not stop laughing.

“Oh, you think you could do better?” He said in between coughs.

“Fuck yeah, I can.” I handed him the lighter and put my joint to my mouth. He flicks his thumb and brings the flame towards my face. As soon as I’m about to take my pull, we hear

“Hey, what are you two doing?” We immediately drop the joints and lighter and begin to run as fast as we can. But the minute we got to the end of the bleacher, we were met with Mr. Abreu and Mr. Torres.

“What were you guys doing?” said Mr. Abreu as he grabbed Edwin.

“Were you two smoking grass?” Said Mr. Torres. We both said no in unison. But, they didn’t believe us. Both Mr. Torres and Mr. Abreu grabbed me and Edwin and dragged us back down the direction we came from. The joints were still there laying on the floor.

An hour later, we were sitting in Mr. Torres’ office with Mike who was pissed at the both of us. We weren’t saying a word to each other as we waited for either Papi or Moms to pick us up. Mr. Torres got up from his desk and walked out of the room.

“You two are complete idiots.” Mike screeched.

“Oh, shut up.” Edwin and I said.

“Shut up? Ya’ll got me in here with you. Papi is going to think that I was involved in all this. I told ya’ll to leave Papi’s stash alone but no, you gotta go and take his shit and try and smoke it at school!!!” As soon as he says this, Mr. Torres walked into the room. At first, he stood there just staring at us. We didn’t utter a single word.

“Mike, where did your brothers get the grass from?”

“Shut up, Mike.” Edwin yelled.

“I didn’t ask you to speak, Edwin.” Said Mr. Torres. “Where did your brothers get the grass from?” Mr. Torres said again with a sterner voice. Edwin stared Mike down as if he was about to kill him with his eyes.

“He didn’t do nothing, Mr.” I said softly to Mr. Torres.

“Mike, come with me please.” Edwin and I both look at each other and then at Mike. Mike looked like he was about to cry as he got out of his seat and walked out of the room.

The next week, we were all sitting in the living room eating dinner when we hear a sudden knock on the door.

“Quien es?” Yelled Papi from the dining room table.

“Police, open up.” Papi jumped up out of his seat and ran to the room. The knocking got louder.

“Open up the door, now. We have a warrant.” We could hear Papi moving shit around in the room as the door swung open and the cops came running inside the house. Xiomara immediately started crying and screaming while Mami just sat there knitting a scarf. We started to scream as a cop grabbed each of us. The next thing I remembered is Papi being dragged out of the apartment in handcuffs being read his rights while a social worker sat with us and told us that we would be placed in a group home for kids and that Xiomara was going to be sent to a girls home, while my brothers and I will be sent to an all boy home. We all held one another until the social worker grabbed Xiomara and ripped her from our arms. I watched as they took her in complete disbelief. That was the last time we saw her, until Papi got out of jail, years later.

• • •

Breadcrumb #495


I love you, we should try to sleep
And rest from absolving ourselves
In the opalescent curtain of the half-grin moon

I love you, we should try to sleep
Before we lose control of our tongues
And wake, teeth clenched like a stone wall,
Unable to look into the eye of the brewing storm

I love you, we should try to sleep,
But you know that I can’t
Since the haunt burrows itself deep within our roots—-

Where we may never wake up to feel the way we did
When the cool grass swaddled our naked bodies
When we listened to the sky boundlessly call out to us
When the white cranes soared and disappeared into the stillness

Into the starling’s distant song
Into the ripple of the waves against the rocky shoreline
Into the passing plane above
Into the oyster shells reclaimed by the tide
Into the soft, floating dandelion seeds barely skimming the surface of our skin—

I love you, we should try to sleep
For I am reminded of how easy it is to lose our way
In the blockades we’ve built before us
In the ones we choose not to destroy

If we decide to guide each other
Through the celestial footpaths that cascade through time
And nurture the tree until the branches bloom
From within, we may find our home.

• • •

Breadcrumb #494


There’s a vague sublimity to the whole endeavor.  
We could be anywhere or anyone.
Vacationers on rented time, casting reckless shadows.

Our boredom defines us like generational motto.
The last original movie was made thirty years before.
Everything animated has been updated to live action.

We are waiting for someone to bring our lives to action,
to remind us that friends are not merely extras,
actors for hourly hire eager for the security of work.

Together we explore sideline concepts of beauty
as related to a sad nearby water park.
We fear our own laughter while waiting in line.

This is a dark cloud of discovery:
your hillbilly past, my parental abandonment,
yet we toast our childhood challenges together

and float down what they call “the lazy canal,”
a twisted backwoods Fallopian nightmare
with trance music piped in.

This is as close to nature as we’ll ever get.
Our own natures as well,
though we both like watching the weather.

It’s a seasonal pilgrimage
undertaken like some Ambien incident,
forgotten instantly, except for the heat.

We’re the new artificial wilderness,
substance formed via connected stories
that vanish like meaning after a day.

In the end, there is nothing left
but two contiguous bodies
watching cloud formations

as they turn into messages
that foretell of a prescient world
where everything suddenly matters.

• • •

Breadcrumb #493


Maybe it was all those Lutheran summers by the river, but I can think of nothing more romantic than destiny, than fate foretold. Not even to be the chosen one necessarily, just to be proximate to them somehow, participating in the fulfilment of a prophecy. It’s been a real problem for me.

Slowly I learn how the language of inevitability is always a trap. But then listen to me, “always.”

What I mean is, any situation could have been otherwise, whatever is begun could have gone another way, could have been avoided entirely, but at every step a decision was made and enforced, often by forces entirely outside of the participants’ control, and then what happened happened, as if naturally, as if unavoidable. But the violence, the tragedy, the failure, none of it had to be that way. Something else was possible.

When I get too utopian in front of certain relatives, talking about how things could have been, could yet be, they’ll say, well it’s just human nature, to be greedy, selfish, whatever, as if that means anything. Human.


Have you seen the movie Dead Again? It’s a 1991 LA noir horror romance, directed by Kenneth Branagh, starring Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson. In the film, Thompson plays a woman who has lost her memory and Branagh the shady private eye who is hired by an idealistic nun to help her. The nun character never returns, but an antique dealer gets involved, providing his services as a regression hypnotist in an attempt to help Thompson reclaim her lost memories and uncover the secret of her mysterious identity, her unknown origins. While undergoing this treatment the film switches from color to black and white flashbacks — an effect added during editing to make the narrative more clear — relaying the story of a glamorous but tragic 1940s Hollywood marriage between a jealous composer and a celebrated pianist, also played by Branagh and Thompson, which ends in murder by household scissors. We come to realize that the mysterious amnesiac and her devoted private eye were this married couple in a past life who have now found each other again, and are now again falling in love, in the same town but fifty years later. Destiny. It’s very complicated, and includes a fun gender swap I bet was pretty wild in 1991, as well as something to do with an expensive anklet, narrow escape from Nazi Germany, and Robin Williams as a disgraced therapist turned grocery clerk.

While they were filming the movie, playing two pairs of lovers who were really perhaps one pair of lovers, Branagh and Thompson were, in fact, lovers in real life. They were married, but divorced not long after when Branagh cheated on Thompson with his co-star in another movie he directed and starred in, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Helena Bonham Carter. The romance not of who you are but who you can pretend, for a time, to be.

I watched Dead Again late one night lying in bed, stressing about something, illuminated by tv light, and I was disappointed that it wasn’t more scary. But once I turned it off I could barely sleep, and when I did I had the strangest dreams, which I have now mostly forgotten beyond a sense of forest green and a sea of disembodied lips.


Or you know when you hear a song you used to love, love with your whole heart as if your love meant something about who you were as a person, and now on relistening you no longer hear what you had heard, and you take it as proof you no longer are who you once were? I mean around what shifting and molten or solid and deep core do you cohere across all these discrete events and instances? Watching a stranger sleep on the train, standing in front of a bar or at a party, wading into a pool, waiting for a movie to start and wondering why you’re there, why you like anything you like, go anywhere you go.

I dreamt I got an email from one poet about another poet, and despite the suspicious clue that I could not remember when or where I read this email that perhaps should have been enough to confirm for me that this event didn’t really happen, I could nevertheless recall the email’s contents so plainly, I remained convinced it was real, and I searched for it for days, afraid I had made some sort of mistake, and eventually had to send a strange email of my own to someone I barely know, admitting I was afraid I deleted a message that maybe never came.

This is one example of why memory is totally unreliable as a measure of identity over time. I remember so vividly things that didn’t happen, or didn’t happen to me.

I am not all of myself, complete and whole, in any one moment, because parts of me are spread out across my life from my birth to my death. I’m multiply located, child parts of me in my childhood, elderly parts of me in my old age, and those parts aren’t here right now, because they’re there.

Or, perhaps they are here right now, time folding over, shapeless and swirling, because I am here, and I am there, not that I am in both places at once, but both places here at once. Or both things are true. And all the parts of you too, here with me. Now and then.

So this is why I think the image of the road, metaphoric or otherwise, is, for me at least, so endlessly appealing, so irresistible. A clear, coextensive line from who you were to who you will be to how you will die and how soon you will be forgotten. For example, in Amanaz’s 1975 “Khala My Friend,” almost the only line in the entire song, repeated over and over, is “the road you're taking / it has no end / Khala my friend come back to me.” My first impulse would be to imagine that a road without end would be a good thing, freedom maybe, something one would wish for their friend, but when Keith Kabwe sings it, the endlessness is the trap, it doesn’t mean no death, it means no rest, no peace, no reunion with your friend who loves you and calls to you home. This endless road just goes farther and farther away forever and then you die, at which point you are either farther away or finally closer again, I’m not sure.

A clear, coextensive line from who you were to who you will be to how you will die and how soon you will be forgotten.

I compare it to Gram Parsons’ “Return of the Grievous Angel,” where Parsons sings with Emmylou Harris, “Twenty thousand roads I went down / And they all lead me straight back home to you.” That’s that destiny I was talking about, its particular comfort being that I imagine it suggests a bond so undeniable it doesn’t matter if you fuck up, it doesn’t matter if you leave, it’s meant to be and so it will find a way, destined, inevitable, love. But that’s not true, of course it matters, relations are fragile and if we are careless they will break, there is no meant to be. And also why do I find the vision of this Annie Rich figure who forgives and welcomes the singer for leaving her twenty thousand times so romantic? Shouldn’t I long for her refusal of his return? Well that one’s easy, it’s the idea of a home you can return to after you leave, something that can’t be lost.

But then the problem of identity over time doesn’t feel so urgent as the problem of losing yourself, or losing hold of yourself, or losing touch with yourself, your true self, so vulnerable to external force or tragedy.


After all those Lutheran summers and evangelical holidays, one comfort I found was in repeating some version of “everything happens for a reason,” or “all is as it should be,” whenever everything appeared to be a fucking disaster. Then in college I read about modal realism, a theory which explains that our world is but one world among many others, each existing at no spatial or temporal distance from this world, but in no way causal or otherwise connected to it. In On the Plurality of Worlds, David Lewis explains, “There are so many other worlds, in fact, that absolutely every way that a world could possibly be is a way that some world is,” which means there are countless worlds where I’ve died already, worlds where I am a bad mother or a good mother, worlds where I’ve killed people, worlds where I am almost exactly as I am in this world you and I share except in this other world my favorite color is a more cerulean blue. If this is the case, as I believe it is, then of course we can no longer say as a comfort that everything happens for a reason, because everything that could happen does happen, somewhere, and all we can say of this way is that it’s the way it is happening here.

Famously, when asked by a fan about Zayn Malik’s departure from One Direction in 2015, Stephen Hawking attempted to provide some comfort by reminding the fan that according to theoretical physics, which postulates the existence of multiple universes, there is a universe where One Direction remains constant, the boys together forever, boys forever. But there are also so many universes where the band never formed, never got famous on the internet, maybe even universes without any pop music at all. Useless universes.

I also loved boy bands, like so many kids in the nineties. Totally unable to understand the ways in which they were produced, their images or personas manufactured to meet my requirements for them, I followed their friendships and rivalries, novelty basketball games, I wondered about their lives, I imagined being a part of it, totally devoted. But gradually the unbelievability of it became intolerable — How could four or five boys simultaneously find themselves again and again in the exact same romantic entanglement as their closest friends? Happily in love at the same time, in love with the wrong person at the same time, ending an affair at the same time. The coincidence was too much, and I grew to fear these singers did not mean what they sang. Perhaps instead I could have learned something about empathy.

Or, harder to believe but much more intriguing, perhaps I could have found an answer in the way their voices harmonized, such that without training and the most careful attention, you could not distinguish one singer from the other, and even then not with perfect certainty. Perhaps the boundaries between the boys were so blurred they were no longer separate and self-contained, but one heart, one consciousness, spread across five bodies, dancing in perfect choreography, singing about feeling. I mean maybe.


Sometimes a trap looks like an escape, which is fucked up.

If I am not sure of being identical with myself over time, if I am confused by the other possible Lauras in all these other possible worlds, I suppose the romance of destiny is not so surprising. Even Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder’s hypersexual Victorian repression via 90s coked-out Hollywood excess — it thrills me. Their love destined across time and death.

As an experiment I look at my backwards face in the mirror and say “I am not Laura” over and over and sometimes “you are not Laura” and other times just “not Laura,” like I’m casually summoning a personal Bloody Mary. It’s unsettling, exciting, and boring all at once, in that standing on a tall balcony over an abyss kind of way. As semantic saturation takes over and words betray themselves as random mouth activities, I know it’s true, Laura isn’t me. Not so much a devastating revelation as a little window that reduces me to this string of metaphors. You should try it sometime.

• • •

Breadcrumb #492


Crescendos vibrate somewhere below the music in the
shadows like a subliminal underground railroad. No stars,
just cyclops moon. Open window, I stared into nothing—
thought about runaway slaves and their efforts to hide.
Bush, swampland stench and fire, fear of auction,
separation and the whip and I was there generations
away next to you on cracked leather seats as you
smoked Djarum cigarettes. I didn’t smoke but I loved
the taste they left in your mouth whenever we kissed,
which was more often than not. You can’t get those
cigarettes anymore in the United States. I inhaled, drew
all that I was into myself from the heated breath of the
wind and tried to make sense of the shadows.

• • •