The Sea Urchin
Grandmother kept a diver’s knife strapped to her thigh. Daily, before the night could fray into dawn, she dived half a mile from shore, inhaling three minutes of air at a time. All morning she pried abalone and sea urchins from slick rock. Once, when she returned, I counted the stiff lines around her mouth, which never seemed to open but held back entire tides. On my birthday, she brought me a ball of spines in a bucket, lifted its bit of ocean into my cupped hands. The creature’s round mouth explored the cracks of my palm, tasting the salt on my skin, recoiling. An offering like the pincushions I often brought my mother, every needle threaded with a different color. Grandmother boiled garlic, soybeans, salt into broth, ladled the seaweed soup into a white bowl. She turned the urchin and broke it open, scooped out the ocher roe with a spoon, dropped it in among the kelp. How it sank like a sun into the murk, dissolved. I spooned mouthfuls at a time as she harvested the rest of the body’s cavern, a move as practiced as mending her thick black diving skins and nets. Her fingers were steady against the spines. What I remember is not the sweetness or the slickness, but the heat rising from the broth, a mouth wide enough to swallow the needles and flesh of the sea.
Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello has received poetry fellowships from Kundiman and the Knight Foundation, among others. She is co-founder and managing editor for Print-Oriented Bastards. Visit her at www.marcicalabretta.com.
Illustration by Keit Osadchuk.