Breath—Brian Michael Barbeito
Brian Michael Barbeito is a Canadian poet, writer, and photographer. Recent work appears at The Notre Dame Review.
I go through from inside to the outside deck via the automatic doors of an impossibly large ship. Just beyond handsome wooden slats beige that meet white painted wrought iron dividers topped with a teak rail, are nothing but waves, the waves of the salt sea. I sit down and watch the horizon line. Some birds appear birds that are tropical and that follow the ship. I wonder then where and when they rest, and it puzzles me. I sit in a chair with faded orange cushions. A woman comes out and her dress is long and is a print decorative and unapologetic.
The wind makes it to dance.
I wish I had a camera, she says, because I would get you take a picture of me. My dress is part of the wind and I look like a bird. Can I sit next to you? I don’t want to bother you.
The woman says she is from the Carolinas now, but lived most of her life in New York City. I am no Southern Belle. Her intonation denotes that she is not below such, but rather more expansive, even cosmopolitan.
She remains on my left. A man approaches from the right but I don’t see him. She does. She says to him, You are one fine man. I have had my eye on you. And what a head of hair. Every time I lay my eyes on you I can’t take them off. Other men just don’t compare.
I look over, turning my head right to a forty five degree angle. He is a bit shy. He has flyers in his hand and is smoking a cigarette. I handed out these flyers advertising a party and I put the wrong information and now I have to go around and hand out the new ones. A pain. But I’ll get it done.
He takes a long drag of smoke into his lungs and exhales. The woman and I look at him and then glance out to the sea. By the way, he says to me, pointing to a table messy with wine glasses and beer bottles, an industrial strength ashtray with half its metal lid missing, I don’t know you but wanted to mention that you handled yourself really well in the midst of that fiasco last night. My husband and I were watching the whole thing. Bravo. Admirable.
I have no idea what he is talking about because he has mistaken me for someone else, which is a pattern, which is something that happens often.
Thanks but it wasn’t me. I wasn’t even near here.
He is surprised. I breathe in smoke. The woman breathes in smoke. He breathes in smoke again. We are all thinking.
Say, I say, What was it all about anyway? Sounds intense.
Ya. There is a group of women here that think the new anti abortion laws are great. I could hardly believe it from anyone, but from women makes it worse in my mind. I was so angry.
He is political. The non-Southern Belle with the beautiful dress nevertheless says something but I can’t make it out for a gust of wind, wind somehow like a breath exhaled by the sea skies. I am generally apolitical, though I have a few ideas here and there that lean left. I let them talk.
He listens to her and is upset about something and then voices his disagreement... They continue on though and are friendly but there is still some problem. Yet, they seem to find common ground on other things, more than not. Their voices fade out. I am thinking. I wonder what will happen if someone mistakes me for a person other than one that had a gift of oratory in debate, or attended an information technology training weekend, or someone who worked construction in the north of towns for a company that I, in reality, had never even heard name of. I wonder some more, about other things similar that have also happened, like the man who identified me as the person who Did not deserve one bit what Lisa and them did to you…no way, not you, who is a good guy and they are wicked evil and I am sorry you had to go through that..
I don’t know any Lisa or group like that.
But so far the reviews of the persons that are not me but look like me are good reviews.
I wonder what would happen if some authorities approach and say simply, Can you come with us please, and though it is a question on paper, is not a question in real life but a statement, and I have been mistaken for someone who did something, well, bad, untoward.
Two men come out and sit beside me on the right. One is of German descent. He told me this before. He chews on his cigar. I am a fisherman, from California, he says, as if simply continuing a days old conversation.
There are many rules where I come from, about fishing, I offer. If you get caught out of season they can impound your car, your boat, basically anything.
That’s right. Where I go also it is the same. Your Canada country population can fit into my California by the way. And, he puts his hand in front of him to help his point, and makes a gesture of some sort, There are rules for a reason, and they should be obeyed. It’s to protect the poor fishies.
I laugh inwardly at hearing this big and otherwise tough guy, chewing on the thickest cigar I have ever seen, say, ‘fishies,’ instead of ‘fish’.
Beside him I see the another man. His face and affect, clothing and something about his general aura remind me of an old friend that committed suicide. Joseph Campbell said that once you reach over thirty everyone you meet will remind you of someone else you already met. True enough. And then what about fifty? What happens then? Maybe unless you are an extrovert, you don’t want to meet anyone else. This man looks like the suicide had he lived another decade or two. The man wears a collar shirt, a golf shirt or something close to one. Non-descript haircut, average height and weight if there are such things. I sense he is not an asshole though, but rather an okay guy. The suicide was also kind, especially as the world goes. Golf shirt is thoughtful but thinks about worldly things. He is talking to someone yet next to his right about points, aero plan, miles, and he keeps glancing at his phone. This mediocrity consumes many people, perhaps the majority.
I breathe deeply, drawing the tropical air as if right to my stomach. Then I take a drag of nicotine and chemicals in smoke and bring them just as deeply in. I don’t really want to talk to any of these people, one way or the other, but there is nowhere else to go to smoke. Its hard maintaining, to coin a phrase, ‘lonership,’ upon a ship. Someone apparently caused a fire on a balcony and there is no smoking any longer on such personal outdoor spaces. Everyone pays for the sins of one. Plus it’s gotten late, and alcohol is a strange thing, - it loosens the mind otherwise inhibited and lubricates the lips. People say things they otherwise would not. I don’t know that I want to see or hear or know what waits dormant in most peoples’ minds and behind their lips.
The ship continues at eighteen to twenty knots, but it feels much faster than that in my guts and blood and bones. Maybe I am too sensitive, empathic towards the immediate and not so immediate environment. Luckily, a song sounds, and it’s Fleetwood Mac. It’s somehow soothing, a calm against the cacophony. Almost everywhere I go, they play Fleetwood Mac, because there is something universal about it all. I listen. I listen then to Stevie Nicks as she sings Dreams,
Oh, thunder only happens when it’s raining
Players only love you when they’re playing
Say, women, they will come and they will go
When the rain washes you clean, you’ll know
Now here I go again, I see the crystal vision,
I keep my visions to myself
The wind picks up. A storm is beginning but they don’t close the area. The man with the lauded hair excuses himself and goes inside. I am back with the bird-dress lady, who is kind and articulate, animated and eccentric and quite beautiful, statuesque. She speaks of many things seemingly at once. America. The Black experience. Diasporas. Education. Employment. Travel. Relationships. Even diet and nutrition. And hens, ‘Hens,’ which I sought clarification on, and was her designation for women that, as she put it,… talk gossip, talk cheap talk, talk nothing but shit and lies about others, people that spread darkness and not light, not realizing that their darkness is going to come back and visit them double-fold in time…
It begins raining hard.
That warm tropical rain.
The wind pushes it into the deck area.
We stand up together. She is tall by any metric. But I am taller. She asks me if she can hold my arm to go inside, and it is windy, for the breath of nature has become something much more pronounced.
I guide her inside at her request.
Where is the woman’s washroom, she asks.
I don’t know. I know the men’s is here. But I have never gone to the woman’s washroom. She walks with me to the stairs and I ask her if she will be okay to find one.
I ascend the steps and she disappears down a hallway. I would normally offer to help her a bit more, to get there, but I have then begun worrying about many things, half formed fears, mistaken identities and the faulty perception of people, even of good people. I was thinking of storms, of politics and division, of life and no life, of health problems and health care, of alcohol, tobacco, and vessels that travel in the night through tropical storms strong.
At the top of the steps I was not out of breath, yet I paused and took a deep breath anyhow.
Then I began to make my way to my room, walking alone under one green electrical sign after another that illumined the way. I could feel the ship rocking back and forth more than usual, a ship perhaps five or seven stories high and housing more than three thousand people.
The night storm had gathered so much strength by then that I could hear the winds whistling even from the inner corridors of the boat.
They sounded like spirits calling out diatribes, rhetoric, pleas, strange joys plus metaphysical pains and warnings, all songs and long wild unabridged strange poems in the middle of a living dream. It all mixed together in my brain and spirit, and I thought of the sea and its vast expanse, of the Atlantic, the Caribbean, of how it rains, the sometimes pregnant sky birthing endlessly through time and cycle its own waters, and how the wind often takes these and places them everywhere, blows them with a breath, and they land sometimes in drips and drops like tears across and down windows, mostly never seen or noted, but having existed nevertheless.
There are spirits simply everywhere, and I think to myself then that many of the dead so-called are more alive than the living.