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.

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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

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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.

• • •

Breadcrumb #454

CRAIG KITE

A

My shoulder pops when I rotate it. Also my grandmother is dying again. Last time she almost died her house burned down. She just laughed then and described what a soul looks like. My mother always calls me when death is singing shrill and I come down to see my Noni leak a little more out of her tired body. She is still alive and tries to look beautiful with a plastic tube slid down her throat. But her eyes say something in between I love you all, now please let me leave, &, Oh god, I’m scared. What’s going to happen to me? Some days I can’t remember my name. I named her Noni before I could spell my own name. It was a mispronunciation of the Italian word Nona. She tries to smile pretty. I brush her hair from her forehead and kiss her. She used to drive a school bus for handicapped kids. I could listen to her talk to me for hours. I never even had to say a word. It felt like a real grownup conversation. Now we crowd around the hospital room trying to lift her spirit, either toward heaven or the will to live. Her throat is sore and she can’t say my name now. I can’t tell if she remembers it. They had to resuscitate her yesterday. She was probably moments away. She wakes up and winces and I wince. 

My mother is a trooper. She’s paints the cabinets cherry. She paints the cabinets white. She paints the smoke show in my mind. She makes me move the furniture. Everything is a matter of fact built on distraction from the inevitable. She is stronger than I hope to be when I watch her die one day. My older brother is more financially stable than me. I’m better at focusing. I can beat him at arm wrestling.  Except I can’t. But I’m taller than him. 

In reality, I take much longer this year to respond when my mother texts that Noni is dying again. I don’t buy a bus ticket immediately. I am hiding in New York and tell my girlfriend I’ll go for the funeral. Or I’ll call mom tomorrow. I am just like my father, wanting to believe my presence is more trouble than help. My shoulder pops when I open my internet browser. I’m already worried about arthritis. 


B

Today Brett Kavanaugh’s seat on the Supreme Court was confirmed. Also my grandmother died. I’m not sure which is stranger, life or death. I’m not pro-life. When people die we say they pass away. When I was younger my body passed over the railroad tracks that run through Queens, New York and it was an adventure. Today my body passed under them a few blocks from my apartment and it was mundane. One day my ghost will pass straight through them. I’ll walk through walls whenever I want to scare a two-year old. My grandmother’s ghost would never do that. She was the personification of a hummingbird. There were always hummingbirds sipping sugar water from the feeders she put out around her house on Hummingbird Lane. She had figurines of hummingbirds collecting dust on every piece of furniture she owned and now nobody wants these nicknacks. Tylenol was Tomynol. She said words wrong but I liked hers better. She was the most racially tolerant and progressive of all the old folks in my family. And once when my mom asked her as child what would happen if a white and a black person had a baby, grandma said it’d come come out like a zebra. She was super good at Super Mario. Now there’s a fire behind my face and my scalp is all tingly. I still can’t cry but I feel out of my body early. And that is because I’m staring at her corpse.

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Breadcrumb #431

SERGIO SATÉLITE

Motivation waits for me
with a cold glass of water.
I split my blue pills into breadcrumbs.
I cannot pray. So I drink.

Mine is a kind of voluptuous self-consumption
with its quasi-predictable-dance
between stimulus and response.
I drift. I float in my wishy-washy déjà vu-ing.
Too often, I seem unable to change.

A gunfight breaks out in the ship of Theseus.
17 against 25. God dies in the helicopter.
Purpose plummets with a hole in its temple.
And I. I Alone. Escape to tell you the news.

You fooled me once. Shame on you.
I fool me every day. Year after year.
Until your mother’s mustache gets sweaty.
What then? Long, hot showers? Is there a “beyond-the-circles”?

Why do we keep delaying putting away our ninja turtles?
Re-committing to Proust? Fixing the Venezuelan economy
and growing into the philosopher-kings our teenage versions
once fashioned for ourselves out of AM-radio-theologies?

Somebody has to go down on the Statue of Liberty.
Somebody has to perform open-mic surgery on this baby, baby.
Somebody has to plug the world back
into this drooling, dissociative unit.
Don’t you understand, Steven?
Somebody has to kill the babysitter.

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