October 18, 2021

Stepping into the Sea

by Maria Lisella 

You let me, your stepmother, 
Take your hand to walk  
into the surf, let 
slippery seaweed wrap  
around your ankles  
like emerald ribbons. 

We step on the edge  
of lacey waves that feel 
like butter on hot skin.  

You hold back, your mother’s 
fear of the sea, fear of me,  
sways you. She warns you  
Yemaya, the Santeria god, 
will swallow you into the sea 
here in Puerto Rico, la isla bonita,
land of your Borinquen bloodline. 

I tip the balance, study Santeria,
pin a benevolent picture  
of Yemaya on my bulletin board, 
so she will know who we are. 

Queen of the Ocean, Mother, 
Yemaya, savior of sailors,  
Spirit of moonlight, 
She will protect you, I swear, 
as she does sailors in stormy seas. 

Tall, lean in silver drapery,  
she shows up in New Orleans hoodoo, 
In Brazil, her wizened face, a walnut, 
In Venezuela, I find  
a child-size likeness of her,  
but am afraid to bring it home, 
its eyes too lifelike. 

Today, we are in Puerto Rico.
We weave our fingers together, 
dig our toes into the sea floor 
sandy and firm underfoot, 
enter the sea of your ancestors.

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