Breadcrumb #514

MARJORIE TESSER

Up on deck there’s a saline breeze and milky stars and endless ocean, shiny and black and moving like synchronized seals under the moon.

The cruise had been booked by my husband, though I’d barely gotten used to thinking of him as that. We’d gone from our first meeting at the conference to messaging to weekends to wedding, and from wedding to ship, friends and family seeing us off with bubbles instead of rice, which is said to harm the birds. How had I agreed to this?

The ship is our home away from home, our haven, our womb, our first-world vehicle for an arms-length tour of the third. Several days out of port, several more till the next, and then again to be herded down the gangplank to lie, flaccid and pinking, on gravelly beaches, or drift mindlessly in and out of overpriced shops to dicker over tourist trinkets. On board we are scheduled like children; steered, managed, and cajoled to participate in games, lessons, sports, and amateur theatrics. There are plenty of nap times—around the pool, on deck, where the ever-present thrum of engine lulls me to a drowsy stupor.

Everywhere, at all times, there are people. And, of course, my new husband ever at my side. The cabin is tight quarters. If I say I’ll take a walk or go work out or sit on deck and read, he jumps up and comes with. I book a massage; he says great and changes it to a couples one. I’d thought I’d known it would be different but hadn’t counted on this constant togetherness. Yet worse, he keeps trying to draw others into our ambit—at dinner, full of bonhomie, he invites all and sundry to sit with us, at the pool, he hectors me off my solitary float to join in a game of water volleyball, in the lounge, he badgers me to join in the singing, while he plays old show tunes on the piano for a jolly throng. After much too much alcohol and rich, heavy, yet somehow unsatisfying foods that leave me logy and overly full, I find myself again in our small cabin, enclosed in his embrace. He’s currently crashed out in the stateroom, satiated after yet another round of our marital intimacies. I slither from under the heavy arm, dress, slip out.

Outside there’s a night breeze that’s cool but hints of heat, like the breaths you sneak when you’re close to a person you crave, but can’t show it; little sips. I wander until I find the one uninhabited area of the ship, just deck, stars, and a lifeboat hulking under its tarp. A corner of the tarp is loose. “Not a bad place to hide,” I think, and then hear approaching steps. My husband? Not that awful woman from the lounge? I quickly climb, rubber soles gaining purchase on its side. I lift the loosened tarp and lower myself into the lifeboat. Like Alice going down the rabbit hole, or the children in books who, by fluke, luck, or happenstance, enter a mysterious portal to a magic world of novelty, adventure, and danger, without a look back I jump into the lifeboat. The same way Jack climbed the miraculous beanstalk, quickly, without much thought, mainly because it has appeared.

On board we are scheduled like children; steered, managed, and cajoled to participate in games, lessons, sports, and amateur theatrics.

Inside is dark, with just the lifted corner of the tarp admitting a pale haze, the clouded solution of night and deck lights, moon and stars. I sink to the floor of the boat, lean back and slowly let out breath. There’s a spark the second before I hear a striking match and then an orange glow of cigarette end, the sharp tang of smoke.

“Sorry,” I mutter, and make for the opening in the tarp.

“Don’t leave,” a voice. Another match flickers; he holds it before his face—a young man. The flame burns down, nearly to his pale fingertips. I lean and blow it out, conscious of my breath on his skin.

I don’t like cigarette smoke, but his is somehow nostalgic of high school, shared illicit smokes in the bathroom, in the dark corners of the playground. He was pale as a rabbit with hair black as crow. Hiding or holing up, here in the dark alone.

I am polite. “I’ll go if you hoped to be alone.”

“I wasn’t.” He drags; exhales. “Hoping.”

Something of the unworldly about him. Pale and slender, but strong underneath, sinewy. Luminous. Hair black as the night ocean. Faint violet sleepless half-circles under deep-set eyes. His voice a light tenor, hypnotic.

“Then why...”

“This is the safest place. From the bores, the authorities. From pirates, Ninjas, aliens, love. Disaster.”

“Have you been...imbibing?” I ask delicately.

He barks a quick laugh. “Did you know where the Coast Guard has its Lifeboat Training School? It’s called Cape Disappointment.” I think I understand.

Glints of moonlight spark the centers of his eyes with little flames. The lifeboat is a satellite, suspended, its own world.

There’s a dankness in the air and I shiver. I remember the warm, bright lounge, my husband’s cozy bed. “Maybe I should go.” Footsteps outside, close.

A moment—freeze frame, a still second.

The ocean is a chameleon—pearl grey in the morning, bottle green when frosted with foam in the afternoon, shiny black at night. The ocean is a dissembler. It seems as if solely water but underneath teems with creatures bizarre, alien, dangerous, like the seemingly kind neighbor who turns out to have a secret life. There are some who find the ocean peaceful, but others accuse it of being deceptive, passive aggressive. The ocean connects home with the places we go. It is answerable to only the moon.

Once activated, the mechanism begins to lift the tarp and to lower the lifeboat, which after a few moments dips, then buoys in the inky sea, bobbing gently in the wake of the big ship gliding steadily on, lights moving on its tiers of increasingly distant decks.

• • •

Breadcrumb #492

PAULA PRYCE-BREMMER

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.

• • •

Breadcrumb #483

ISABEL ANREUS

My abuela and I share the same Orisha, the santo Obatalá. Adorned in white; the eldest and wisest. The Orisha that preserves justice and reckoning. The diplomatic voice amongst a constant discord of sibling rivalry. The androgynous white knight. Obatalá is both male and female, both a Catholic and African deity. Every member of my family has an Orisha to protect and watch over them. My mother’s so accurately is Yemayá, the mother of all living things. She is all blue and resides in the ocean. She takes care of her other siblings’ unwanted children. My brother’s is Changó. He is fire, lightning, and thunder. Smudged red. Power, strength, and aggression are his most prized attributes.  He was once king of the whole earth, and Changó, like my brother, has an appetite for all things decadent. My father is the luckiest, his Orisha is Elegguá, the most powerful. Children of Elegguá are blessed; they have access to the twenty-one roads. He is the connecting agent, the negotiator with fate. Elegguá is also the trickster; the child with an incessant fervor for candy. His shrines are the easiest to spot, always covered in sweets, money, and liquor.   

Santeria translated from Spanish is roughly, “devotions to the spirits,” but most who practice it don’t use this term to describe it. The more familiar term is Regla de Ocha which translates roughly to, “Ruler/Rules of the Bark.” Orishas (spirits) are the children of Olodumare, the ultimate creator.  The tale goes that Oldumare got bored with Earth so she moved on to create other universes across the galaxy. She left behind her eldest children, the sixteen Orishas, to keep an eye on humanity, whether they do so righteously depends on the Orisha.

    My first real exposure to Regla de Ocha happened when I was five years old. My mother hauled me and my entire family to the Cuban capital of ‘90s New Jersey, Union City, for an official reading by a babalawo (a priest). His partner answered the door in a hot pink silk robe with matching slippers. A bright red boa wrapped around his neck. I remember I reached out and grazed one of the feathers with my index finger. By the front door was a coconut covered in Puka shells resting in a bowl filled with loose change, individually wrapped pieces of candy, and mini bottles of Bacardi.

The tale goes that Oldumare got bored with Earth so she moved on to create other universes across the galaxy.

     From a time beyond my own, it stems from the Yoruba tribe in West Africa, Regla de Ocha is commonly misinterpreted as a blend between two religions—Catholicism and the Yoruba tribal ceremonies— but it exists as something else entirely. It is a religious syncretism, creating a parallel, an alignment in the obtuse patterns of mysticism. After being forced to convert to Catholicism, many of the slaves kept their own traditions and rituals, attributing its similarities to the Catholic faith. Practiced in secret, Regla de Ocha was passed down through the tongues of those most persecuted, using the steady beat of the sacred batá drum to plant the roots of their religion that traveled all the way across the Atlantic to Bayamo, Cuba.  

     My abuela’s sister first introduced her family to Regla de Ocha back in Havana. The youngest of ten children, it must have been quite a game, matching each Anreus sibling with their Orisha counterpart. Finding one’s Orisha is not just based off of similar personality, but about capturing someone’s aura, their spiritual energy. It is about an individual’s connection with the universe, highlighting one’s inner truth and recognizing it as a larger sense of purpose. My great-aunt’s Orisha is Oyá. The warrior and protector of the dead. She guards the cemetery. The female counterpart to Changó, and the only Orisha who can control him. Full of sadness, death follows her everywhere. Her magic number is nine, for the number of still-births she’s had. She finds solace in few things, one of them being chocolate pudding.

    When I visited my abuela at the nursing home during the last several months of her life we developed a routine. I would rub Shea butter all over her hands and face, fold up and feed her an extra piece of Wrigley’s Freedent gum, and take off the garish nail polish the aids painted on a weekly basis— hot pink, fire engine red, burgundy, colors my abuela would claim were, colores de putas. When I cleaned her nails she wouldn't speak to me, she would just surrender each finger one by one. I clipped, filed, and buffed; scraped out the dirt and old food building between the edge of nail and skin. Then, I would coat each one with a glob of clear polish, exactly how she liked it. Her nails were shaped exactly like mine.

• • • • • •

Breadcrumb #481

CHELSEA FONDEN

you wanted
a propeller with tiny shoulders,
a fury stirred with purpose, unwrecked
winter light 

did i ever earn the right
to enjoy the fruits
or the labor, participation
trophy lips
and hands like spades

convincing
you i loved you
was like underwater breathing—
a pterodactyl scared and flailing,
picture
the sound that would make

 one day i’ll have a spaceship
in my wallet,
a love
deep-creased from unfolding 

when i recall our monsters
i think of alligator waters,
a banner unfurling
in rented wind

there’s no gingerbread trail, but
what i’m saddest about
is the way you clothes-lined, gray and
giving up the fight

• • •

Breadcrumb #463

PAUL SUNDBERG

The Sidewalk is impossibly narrow, walkable only by one, or two in single file, or me and a dog on a long leash, and the sort of cat that follows freely for a while just to irritate that leashed dog.

But, it’s suburbia and no one was ever supposed to walk on it really - everyone driving or being driven - the concrete ribbon meant only to lift to just the right height the wheels of lawn-mowers dutifully driven on late Saturday mornings, or to stabilize the Monday through Friday afternoon wheels of the tricycle driving toddlers (honestly, no one could wait to drive) watching for the big kids to get off the bus.

It was rolled out in the early Sixties, after all, when walking was reserved for hallways and aisles and the people who sadly, hopelessly careened through their driven lives in big cities. And even there, when late in the decade the marches came, the marchers took to the streets and highways, leaving the sidewalks to white men standing behind badges, and lenses, and the times.

As I walk the concrete ribbon now I think of it as an artifact of a world long gone, a memorial to the men who cut its course, set it forms, and poured a new world into being - this suburbia. Each embedded pebble a drop of sweat, a buck earned and penny saved in the hope of a lawn-mower of their own and a child on a tricycle.

The roots of trees have raised the sidewalk’s edge. Torn the ribbon jagged - it trips me into paying attention to the blade gouged lawns, the children in the street pedaling, dodging cars driving to and from the city, and the fractured fragments of the impossibly wide suburban dream once so neatly tied up with concrete ribbons.

• • •