Piles of boxes and spilled memories are scattered
on the tile floor, but the wooden dining table remains
spotless.
Amidst the sea of clutter, a picture of him, defiant
and me grinning in a broken
frame.

My mouth waters
as I inhale the aroma of rice and his favorite fish.
One chair without an owner
sits there, mocking me.
I exhale as I hear the familiar hum of the stranger.

He is a visitor in my home.
He reeks of sea air and a foreign world that is separate
from my own.
He surfaces from the shadows,
wearing his white uniform decorated with epaulettes
like a new man.
He was more of my father in the shadows.

He leaves his muddy footprints on the tile floor,
smudging my picture.
Not long after he eats, conversation breaks
like spirits at an orphanage.
Words are like hands grabbing for his attention.
Conversation is a strategy
to move up ranks for his approval.

Now I lock eyes with the Commander.
His eyes are closed doors,
but I ask the usual “how are yous”
like a child sneaking notes underneath the slits.
I beg him to let me in.

But nothing comes out.
The silence plunges
like an anchor.
I try to swallow
all the dignity I have left.

Why does water taste so salty?
I let the bitter and the sweet roll against my tongue,
reminding myself of the beach where I felt a temporary
sense of peace when he was my father,
and we were home.

It was where the water used to tickle my toes,
and he wore a ratty orange shirt instead of epaulettes.
I blink, and I capture his big footprints next to my little ones.
He carried my shoes because he knew
how much I loved the water and sand between my toes.
The water was my friend,
and now it’s my enemy.
It took my father away from me.

He treats me like one of his seamen,
but I have an identity.
I am his daughter,
yet he doesn’t know the difference.

He throws me shoes that are three sizes too small,
and he asks me how I still like middle-school
when I’m a sophomore.
He is stuck in the years he missed
like he forgot something he should have picked up years ago.

And who knows the next time he comes back,
but until then, I will learn
to live with half.
He will return from his ship
like waves coming back and forth.

I’ll be waiting on the land
not feeling any peace
because it’s gone.
I no longer search for permanence.

I no longer expect outstretched arms,
only cold water piercing my skin
and leaving me to dry
like an orphaned shoe with only one set of footprints.
Where are my father’s?

Where is my father?
As the high tide keeps pushing me farther away from the water
I no longer resist it washing me away.

Limping on one shoe,
footprints, only circles
restless, waves’ motion,
Just carry me; my father won’t.

Finding something to walk upright
Kicking the waves with my one shoe.
Fighting to read the footprints erased
Retracing my missing steps
Leading to a stranger I recognize.

On the barren sand,
his orange shirt catches my eye.
The waves spit him out.
Coughing, my father lies
soaking up the water,
keeping dry
my other shoe.

 

Jenelle Anareta is a first-year student who hasn’t decided on a major yet. Her hobbies include songwriting and playing the guitar. This is her first publication.