Brandel France de Bravo

Mind Training Slogan 25: Don’t Talk About Injured Limbs

They look like kangaroos at the beach
—older white people, doubled over
the edge of Florida’s Gulf, wearing
belly bags. They’re eyeing the sand
for sharks’ teeth, black and abundant
on this stretch of coast. With their visors
and sun-slapped skin, slick with lotion,
are these my people? Others walk upright
with what appear to be golf clubs, a sieve
at the base to sift tooth from chaff.
Every ten feet, another dead fish,
even an iguana in shavasana.
The humans greet each other, and cough.
“Red Tide tickle,” they call it.
Some sneeze or wheeze. No one’s
swimming. Just collecting, collecting.

One woman tells me, “I can’t stop
even when I have a Ziploc bag full.
It’s so relaxing.” She reaches in
and hands me a fistful of teeth.
I thank her and think of Carlos’s sister,
who, he says, can’t unwind, only finds
peace shopping all night online
and sleeps by day. I’m judging again.
I can’t stop. I observe, then categorize
just as I do the shells underfoot:
“ice cream cone,” “pock-marked,”
“Ruffles potato chip.” I walk some more,
before recalling something I heard
in a podcast: joyful participation
in a world of sorrows
. Why assume
the beachcombers are choosing
to ignore warming waters, algal bloom?
Are averting their gaze from the ways
some joys lead to others’ sorrow?

A woman with binoculars, who prefers
categories of birds to shells, up to down,
watches bald eagles dive and grasp
what floats on the Gulf’s surface.
“I didn’t know eagles could be sea birds,”
I tell her. “They’ll eat carrion wherever
they find it,” she says, and for a minute,
I reconsider our national symbol,
—taloned, carcass-loving—on the back
of every dollar bill. For centuries
Parsees left their dead at the Tower
of Silence, not wanting to taint water
or land. I’m grateful bald eagles
haven’t disappeared like the vultures
of Mumbai. “Sky burial,” they called it.

My walk almost done, I notice no one
empties their stash before leaving
the beach. The collection plate in this
church is replete, after all. The teeth
shift and click against coins, keys,
pens in the pocket of my backpack.
The teeth are hard and sharp like more.



Brandel France de Bravo is the author of Provenance (Washington Writers Publishing House poetry prize winner), Mother, Loose (Accents Publishing, Judge’s Choice Award) and the editor of an anthology of contemporary Mexican poetry. Her poems and essays have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, the Cincinnati Review, Copper Nickel, The Georgia Review, Gulf Coast, Poet Lore, the Seneca Review, and elsewhere. Brandel teaches a meditation program developed at Stanford University called Compassion Cultivation Training.