top of page

The Precise Opposite of Buried Treasure - Robin Kinzer

**Robin's essay is the winning submission from the Summer Fiction & Nonfiction Contest.**

It’s a three-day drive from our recycled brick and glass home in Virginia to our squat, red house on Cape Breton Island. We’ve made this journey every August from the time I was a chubby, burbling baby. My sister, an audacious four year-old in blonde pigtails, who knew precisely how to cradle the squashy watermelon of my skull. My parents, still young enough to be carded, seemed custom-made for Cape Breton from the start— lovers of scallops and oysters, of bagpipes and whales, of Scottish step-dancing and sun-sweet folk festivals.

A parcel of years peeled past, my family still thrills to this journey every August. Our ancient Volvo Station Wagon, kissed with rust, bounces us across one highway after another. It’s a three-day drive, but my father tugs us out of cheap motel beds at six a.m. every morning, plies us with sugary pastries, and gets us on the road by seven. In this way, we usually make it there in two and a half days. Sister and I bring our own pillows, pressing them against the car windows so we can sleep longer. I like to sneak peeks at my stunning, sleeping sister, and wonder what she’s dreaming— her mouth slightly ajar, pink sugar crusted at the edges of full lips.

Sometimes when she’s really tired, she drools just a little. I stop myself from wiping it off her chin, knowing full well she would shriek if she woke to find me dabbing at her face with a tissue. I leave the drool to dry to white crust.

An entire ecosystem forms in our car every time we make this trip, two and a half days stretching into its own minute eternity. My mother keeps green grapes and Goldfish crackers beneath her seat, ready for anyone who might need a snack. She runs spidery fingers down my father’s aching back, and he barks like a happy bear. Sister and I fill out page after page of Mad Libs; squint out the windows to find cars from as many states as possible; jump checkers over a small, metallic board. We listen to books on tape as we drive, mostly mystery stories about a detective whose Siamese cat solves the crimes. We are a Siamese cat family, and all of us but my father loves these books. He plays along, eagerly taking his turn when it comes, sliding sticky tapes of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and The Everly Brothers into the cassette player.

I sing and dance along in the back of the car, until Sister screeches: Stop it, Robin, you keep elbowing me! I know every one of these hits from the fifties and sixties by heart after all these years in the backseat— but I stop dancing because, let’s be honest, Sister scares me a little. She’s brave and blonde and all the things I’ll never be. I keep singing along though, loud and off-key, slicing eyes sideways at Sister, elbows tucked tight to ribs.

The day before we leave for Canada, my mother’s anxiety is always palpable. Her headache, very nearly visible. The night before we leave, she snaps at one or sometimes all three of us. This is entirely unlike her. The truth is, without asking her permission, we’ve put my mother in charge of looking after every single one of us. She counts beach towels, then counts them again, folding with a tight elegance I will still be trying to mimic in my forties. She does last minute loads of my father’s laundry. She seals tangerines into Tupperware. Checks that Sister and I have packed both bathing suits and cold weather clothes. Compiles crayons, coloring books, puppets, anything she can think of to keep two children busy in the backseat of a station wagon. A hundred pounds soaking wet, my elfin mother carries the three of us from one country to another. I’m quite sure none of us thanked her nearly enough.

Not long after we’ve hit the highway, I feel her anxiety deflate, just as palpable. Hear the tension in her voice uncoil and release. Sure, she still has to referee the odd argument between Sister and I. But for the most part, she can focus on the journey now— can look forward to her favorite beaches, mountains, waterfalls. Fields full of wildflowers so tall they rise past even my father’s dark head. Years later, I gently suggest to my mother that she might have Generalized Anxiety Disorder just as I do. She does not disagree.

There are landmarks we visit every summer as we wind our way from Alexandria to Cape Breton. A diner with a twelve-page menu and tall, tilting sunflowers framing the windows. A cafe inside the body of a bright red caboose, tiny round tables and wooden chairs tumbling over one another. Barely room to move, let alone eat. A massive statue of a blueberry with a face— hulking, grinning. We pose for photos beneath this giant blueberry every year, and every year my father grumbles at my stuck-out tongue, my crossed eyes: Robin, stop making those faces. Come on, everyone, smile— we have to hit the road. A yellowing field full of scarecrows and mannequins decked out in elaborate costumes, fifteen or twenty of them in a loose circle. Flapper mannequin; flight attendant mannequin; bride and groom scarecrows. Sister and I plant ourselves in the circle and strike dramatic poses, vamping for the camera, cackling as we hold their straw and plastic hands.

When I’m five years old to Sister’s worldly nine, I begin refusing to order at restaurants before she takes her turn. She can go first!, I squeak when the server arrives. Oh my god, Robin, not again, groans Sister. She glances at the harried server, anxiously passing her tiny notepad from one hand to another, gives in and orders. Mystery of all mysteries, I find myself instantly sure of what I want. And what I want is precisely what Sister is having— fried clam strips with curly fries, chicken fingers with apple sauce, salami sandwich on rye. Why do you always do that?! she exclaims once the server leaves. At five, I don’t yet know how to wrap syllables around the answer to this, though I feel it sitting, warm, in the pocket of my chest. Because you’re the coolest person I know. Because I want to be just like you. Because I love you so much that it hurts.

Just before Maine transforms into Canada, we stop to eat a massive breakfast in the same restaurant every year. No pulpy Danishes or flaky croissants coating the car with crumbs this time. No dense hockey puck of a bran muffin for my mother— a mistake my father made once, and may never live down. She scowled at him just slightly when he handed it over, glancing around at the rest of us, scarfing down chocolate chip muffins and sugar-crusted croissants. Just a few hours from Cape Breton, eager and hungry and over-tired, we demolish blueberry pancakes, Western omelettes, fresh melon cups, curl-crisped piles of bacon.

Bumping along the vague suggestion of road carved into the cliffs, a cheer goes up when we spot our house for the first time in a year, bright red smear on the horizon. The house always greets us in impressive disrepair. Thin haze of dust coating the floor, windows, walls. Dead flies on nearly every windowsill. Always best to check the chimney for a bird’s nest. Mom lugs dishes up from the crawl space, and begins carefully unpacking them. Sister and I take rags and sponges to the windows, muttering back and forth beneath our breath: No, you clean up the dead flies! No, YOU do it! Dad checks the chimney for rogue cormorants, then brings me with him to a nearby neighbor’s house, where we fill enormous green jugs with water. It’s not safe to drink what our house has to offer— is barely safe to shower in it. One summer, the matted body of a dead vole came slurping out of the faucet. Plopped right into my bubble bath.

I screeched for my mother on instinct. She tossed her annoyance through the thin bathroom door: Robin, what is it this time? At twelve, I had taken to screeching so often that this was an entirely fair question. Frozen in the white-frothed tub, I felt the vole’s decaying body bobbing about my bare skin, brushing against my thighs. Soon I lost track of my breath, burst into tears, cried for help again. This time, my mother came into the bathroom. Her hands leapt to her chapsticked mouth when she saw the vole, saw me scrunched into the furthest corner of the small tub.

She gathered me in her arms, rodent-dirtied water dripping from my limbs. Wrapped me in an enormous, striped beach towel. I continued to shake and cry in spurts, but she smoothly rinsed me down with washcloths and water from the sink, patted me dry, brought me a clean sweatshirt and pair of jeans. To this day, she feels guilty about dismissing me the first time I called out to her.

I was raised by books as much as parents. My mom and dad took us to local libraries from the time they could pop us into strollers and roll us through the stacks. They allowed us to choose one book each, every time we visited a bookstore. At the end of every school year, they chose a book for each of us. Scrawled letters across their title pages, and presented them to us over Kung Pao Chicken and Moo Shu Vegetables at our favorite Chinese restaurant. My parents marked time with books. I took careful note of this. Late in July, Mom, Sister, and I make our most important stop before Cape Breton— the local library. The big, angular one that has been recently renovated, and is juicy with good books. We fill canvas tote bags to the top with heavy hardcovers, hefting them to the parking lot. Stray paperbacks come tumbling loose, spilling across the library’s long sidewalk.

My mom chortles, but doesn’t object, when in the July I’m fifteen years old, I reach the library’s borrowing limit. I check out precisely fifty books at once, reluctantly picking through them first, choosing over a dozen to return to their sleepy shelves. (I’ll be back for you, don’t worry, I whisper to the discarded books.) By then, I am waist-deep in Tom Robbins, Walt Whitman, Sandra Cisneros, Francesca Lia Block, Kurt Vonnegut. My parents laugh when I stuff forty-five of the fifty books into the Volvo’s trunk, but once again, do not object.

Perhaps I wasn’t raised by books, so much as raised by parents who held books as holy. Who never questioned how important they were to Sister and I. Should I ever marry, I’m stealing plenty from my parent’s marriage, but especially: The way they read together every night. Mom’s slim ankles crossed, her legs stretched beneath a kitten-soft throw she wove herself. Or resting gently on my father’s lap. They take turns calling out strange, new facts from their respective books, as eager to share as ever after fifty-five years of marriage.

In my childhood home in Alexandria, a row of burgundy encyclopedias from 1991 stands just behind the dining room table, gilded gold lettering somehow still gleaming. As a child, my family rarely got through a meal without pulling out an encyclopedia, a dictionary, a nature guide. Someone was wrong, and someone else was determined to be right. Ah-has! and Just as I thoughts! rung out across the long, teak dining room table.

Certainly, we take swimsuits and bug spray to Canada. We take comfortable clothes and canteens, camping gear and scuba suits. But our station wagon is heaviest of all with books; a tall, teetering pile for each of us. Dad brings historical autobiographies and books about science no one else in the family can decode. Mom, Sister, and I bring mostly novels— Margaret Atwood, Alice Walker, Jeanette Winterson, Barbara Kingsolver. There is one summer, though, when my father devours The Hunger Games along with the rest of us. I am immeasurably pleased, tickled right past pink to bell pepper red. He likes to call himself an old dog who can’t learn new tricks, but I see evidence to the contrary. We read together every night— no television in the house, no internet connection. Most nights, Dad falls asleep first, glasses crooked on his face, six-hundred page autobiography of Benjamin Franklin slumped across the bridge of his nose.

Once Sister moves out of our family’s house and goes to college, we mostly stop fighting. I slip a maudlin goodbye poem into the side pocket of her new suitcase. The poems is about watching the shadows beneath her bedroom door when she dances, and later, she tells me it made her cry. We quickly grow close. When I tell her I’m bisexual, strangling my fingers with the beige curl of telephone cord, she has the best response of anyone yet. Wide grin swinging through her voice, she says just: Well, that just makes you ten times cooler than you already were.

In Cape Breton, now we occasionally take overnight camping trips, just the two of us. On my favorite of these trips, we’re fifteen and nineteen, and set up camp next to a small, clear pool with a waterfall cresting over it. Noisy squirrels, the color of quiet carrots, chirrup from the trees circling our campsite. The occasional rust-red toad, trilling like telephones, hops by as we set up our tent. (Later, I will learn this trill is their mating call— the male Eastern American Toad waits by ponds or pools, ringing on repeat, then hijacks the female toad’s eggs when they pick up the call.)

At night, I cook cheddar and potatoes in foil, burying them in the coals of our campfire, and we toast plump marshmallows to smash between graham crackers and over-sweet squares of Hershey’s chocolate. Sister is patient, turning her marshmallows in precise circles through the fire. They transform into crisp tan orbs with sliding, sticky centers. Half the time, mine are burnt into black bubbles, though they’re still gooey and sweet on the inside.

Later, when we’re burritoed into our sleeping bags, Sister tells me all about her new college boyfriend. What does he look like?, I whisper into the rustling darkness. Do you think you love him? I can’t see her, but can hear the joy tap-dancing across her suntanned, freckled face. Can hear her nose, with its slight upward curve, scrunching in delight. Yes, yes— I love him. I’m glad it’s anthracite-black inside our tent, and she can’t see my own flushed face. Impossibly eager, so pleased to be allowed entrance into her world. The next morning, we skinny-dip in the surprisingly deep, round pool beneath the waterfall. We dive beneath the crisp cool of the water, and resurface laughing, splashing each other, water sluicing down our bare backs. We dare one another to touch our toes to the slimy bottoms, and each time leap back up squealing.

I get sick for the first time when I’m fourteen, and we’re on our way to Canada. Just after entering New Hampshire, pain railroads through me. We’ve curled our way off some turnpike or another in search of gas and granola bars. Small swarm of bees biting at my abdomen, I cram into a tiny gas station bathroom to change my tampon. Within seconds, I’m thrust to the gritty floor as if by someone’s actual hands, stabs of pain scissoring deep into my abdomen. A wad of discarded grape bubblegum lies even with my eyes. It will be another nine years before I get the diagnosis of endometriosis, and twenty-one before I find a doctor who actually knows how to make the pain stop.

For the rest of the day, I barely eat or talk, clamshelled in on myself. Watching me squirm, scrunched at awkward angles in the backseat of the car, Sister darts concerned glances my way. She is not used to anything resembling quiet coming from her little sister.

None of us have the slightest idea what we’re in for in the years to come.

My father gets sick much later, his body a morbid mood ring, morphing from aplastic anemia to a rare form of leukemia, to still another rare leukemia. I am not used to seeing him stand guard while other people climb tall ladders or swing heavy hammers. I am not used to being forbidden to hug him, masks on at all times. (The first time I reached to hug him, and he held me at arm’s length, said softly: That’s close enough— I excused myself to the bathroom, sat on the closed toilet seat, and sobbed into my knees.) I am not used to seeing him so tired, eyelids drowsed and drooping every time he sits still for more than ten minutes. Luckily, for my father, chemotherapy’s primary side effect seems to be tiredness, and that alone. Luckily, yes— but for a man who was an astrophysicist for decades; with a so-called side gig renting, renovating, and unclogging the toilets of dozens of apartments; not to mention an entire, sawdust-pale shop full of side projects— I cannot imagine how it must feel to be slowing down against his will.

Once my father develops leukemia, it’s not long before I’m sick again as well. I had five and a half blissful years without abdominal pain, and am furious that I’ve now developed a disease even more rare, even less understood, than my father’s. I’m not angry that I’m sick so much as I’m bent in half with guilt by it. Which is to say, I’m angry at no one more than myself. Logically, I know none of this is my fault; a body gone rogue, healthy tissue turning scar, turning necrotic. But I’m angry, most of all, because this is my father’s time. His story, his pain. My illnesses have already sucked up more than enough familial oxygen. Youngest daughter, poet daughter, pink-haired daughter. Daughter who simply cannot stay well.

Mesenteric panniculitis. A disease so rare, some doctors sheepishly look it up right in front of me. The less brazen say they’ll have to do some research. A disease so brutal, it’s as if all the illnesses that came before served to train me for this experience. I shamble about my apartment in pajamas three sizes too big, zombied by fatigue. Pain chainsaws through my abdomen, leaves me wheezing, cheeks strewn with purple mascaraed tears. Intractable nausea paired with an absent appetite means I’m often unable to eat until past midnight. Too weak to stand, my best friend pan-fries pierogies for me. Dense little pillows of potato swathed in pasta, one of five foods yet to turn on me.

I haven’t been to Cape Breton for half my lifetime now. I went every year of my childhood, infancy to eighteen, and those nineteen Augusts are still drilled deep into my marrow. I still daydream about collecting bits of blue and green sea glass with Sister, rubbing their glassine bodies against our palms; about crackling campfires on our blue-grey pebbled stretch of beach; about eating ketchup potato chips and reading Archie comics before lunging back into the ocean. I first stopped going because of work; then soon after, illness. My mother and father still go every year, though they fly now, which goose-eggs a lump into my throat. Sister flies as well, with her husband and two daughters, and their visit usually overlaps with Mom and Dad’s for at least a week or two. The whole family there together; picking blueberries, climbing mountains, scouting for perfectly pearled seashell curls. The whole family there, save the girl who grew into a woman scared to travel too far from home, scared to run out of her medicines, scared to ever be too far away from a hospital.

The past few years have been tricky when it comes to Canada. First Covid-19 and closed borders kept my family out, and then my father’s illness made its ruthless arrival. As sturdy as he still looks through my hope-hazed eyes, the unvarnished truth is that he’s eighty-one years old and severely immunocompromised. If I step back and look at him as I would at a stranger, I can see his tanned face has grown grooves. He has lost weight. His infamous eyebrows have grown even greyer, even longer, hanging over the rims of his glasses. My parents have not seen Cape Breton for three full seasons now.

Sister’s family made it back this past summer— found the house nearly overtaken by wild animals, those ubiquitous voles taken up residence in both the oven and the washing machine. Screens ripped from the porch, a long-leaking roof nobody can track to its source, dead insects on nearly every surface. I tell my best friend about this, and he says that it appears we’re really renting the house from the voles. That every August they must squeak to one another: The Kinzers are back, the Kinzers are back! I’m almost glad my father didn’t see all of this disrepair, though I know he’d love the house no less. More than likely, he would have everything fixed in record time, would be the one to track down the source of the elusive leak. Hope swells in my chest, frantic, operatic, as I pray for my father to see Cape Breton at least once more before he dies.

The first time I was sick, my father alternated between growling at me for crying, and proffering massive, bitter bars of dark chocolate. I’m not sure that he— hard science, ardent logic, blustery temper— ever knew quite what to make of me. Daughter of pixie, of poetry, of disease. Daughter who shaved her head at sixteen, and slicked her combat boots with a different color of glitter every other week, often matching them to her girlfriend’s. Rainbow shoelaces a must. Daughter who came out as queer at fifteen, and worked as a pin-up girl for years in her twenties. Daughter who cried easily and often, even before falling ill.

If I press my ear to the porthole of memory, I can still hear our shouting matches reverberating through the years. Can still feel sore ears, yanked shoulder joints, bruised knees. Still see my retainer shattered to the ground in six, precise pink pieces. But now, years later, my father stands by my rumpled bed, tenderly takes my hand. Speaks softly. Steadies my rabid pulse. I just wanted to commiserate, he says. I’m really sorry you’re still feeling so sick. I almost say: Thank you, but Dad, I’m really sorry you’re dying, but squash my chapped lips tight before the words come stupidly spilling out.

I don’t particularly want to write about my father’s sharper sides, how they would come on sudden as thunderclap. I forgave him long ago for the way he treated me when I was younger. There has been therapy— so much therapy. There was, in the early days of my father’s aplastic anemia diagnosis, a near-death experience that significantly gentled him. There was an eleven month stretch of time when I lived in a therapeutic community, and we did not speak or see one another at all. I doggedly, daily, did the long, tiring work of forgiveness. During this time, I also got the hysterectomy that had been twenty-one years in the making. He sent an explosion of pink and purple blooms to the hospital. Didn’t text or call, just quietly sent this offering of lilies and roses, his velvet-petaled congratulations.

My father could, on occasion, be cruel. He could be capricious. He began calling me useless, lazy, good-for-nothing, a real piece of garbage, when I was in the second grade. Though it happened numerous times over the years, I contain only hazy memories of what made him so mad in the first place. Maybe it was a chore done wrong, a crying bout, an inability to understand a math equation. The memories only shift further away, like taunting ghosts, when I strain to remember more. Most of the time, my father was warm, kind, funny. Boundlessly generous and curious. His cheeks fill into sun-goldened apples when he smiles. His laughter bellies into the room, filling it completely, delight trumpeting its arrival.

I choose to spend the remainder of our time together without the specter of our past hissing at us from musty corners. I choose to believe in neuroplasticity, in therapy, in change. There is simply no room left inside me for resentment. My father is gearing up to go just a handful of years after the gale force clouds between us cleared. The sky left behind, cerulean at high noon, struck through with sunlight. Now he’s leaving us, and I think constantly about the inner workings of clocks, wonder if his beloved astrophysics might teach me something about how to bend time to my favor.

It's as simple as it is obvious. In my last days with my father, I choose only love.

In Cape Breton, at ten, he takes me to the docks to show me how lobsters are chosen; how to select a good piece of fish. We pick wild blueberries for hours, inching down the dizzying slant of the mountain that hunches over our home. We perch on top of an old stone bridge, and he teaches me how to fling glimmering lures into the water. How to listen with your entire body for the tug that means you’ve caught something. He spends entire afternoons in the sun-spangled waves with Sister and I, swimming and splashing, but also windsurfing, boogie boarding, snorkeling.

One of my earliest childhood memories, no context whatsoever, is just a tiny Robin clinging to her father’s fur-tufted chest. Ocean waves cresting darkly beneath us, I cling tighter to his small field’s full of chest hair. Surely it hurts, but he does not say a word.

He could never say no to ice cream, especially two homemade scoops for a dollar and fifty cents. Little wooden ice cream huts dot the road leading to and from one of our favorite beaches— the sandy one dotted with tourists, polar opposite to the secluded, grey-blue pebbled beach where we spend most of our days. I eat bright blue bubblegum ice cream, thick with rainbowed nuggets of gum you can save a Dixie cup to chew later. Dad’s choices are a bit less whimsical. He demolishes double scoops of butter pecan, black walnut, pistachio anything if they have it.

My father: A man of average height and lean, muscular build, his Oklahoma farmer’s tan never fully leaving him. His eyes deep green, eyebrows bushy and animated like friendly caterpillars. I sincerely doubt he ever fully realized how much power he wielded over me. If it was a good day— my father and I staying up late to watch black and white movies; playing basketball by the light of our deck’s single, stuttering bulb; sneaking off to Popeyes together, cackling as I ate a two-piece meal and he destroyed an impressive pile of spicy wings— the planet would seem to glister and glow on its axis.

If it was a bad day— a screaming match, an offhand comment that leveled me— I would burrow deep beneath my comforter, and cry until I couldn’t breathe. Sometimes my mother would come sit at the foot of my bed, and wrap her palms around my ankles, riding it out with me. To this day, nobody can make me cry like my father. He rarely hurts my feelings now. Never calls me names. These tears are a different brute entirely. That’s close enough, he said softly— and now I wonder every day if I’ll ever hug my father again.

And my mother, in all these aquatics? She’s not the lighthouse— easy guess. She’s the lighthouse keeper. Rigorous, steadfast. A fierce eye for details. (Blue eyes, soft like denim just before it begins to fade.) My mother is not the giveaway glamour of light slicing through fog. She’s the entire, actual animal of lighthouse keeping— stoking fires, rushing down seven flights of narrow snail shell stairs. Eye always on the horizon.

Every midnight now, I sink into panic attack, breathing as if underwater. Chest heaving. Tears taste remarkably like ocean when you already believe you’re beneath the surface. I drop down and down, but find only the precise opposite of buried treasure. (Remember how much you loved pirates, how you begged Dad to squeeze one into every bedtime story?) I’m sad that I may be dying, but am far more sad that my father is definitely dying. It hits me with fresh cruelty every evening. I tunnel deep into his dark brown sweater — the one my grandmother made from wool, the one he loaned me just after telling me how sick he was, and will not take back— and vibrate with sobs.

Crying, memories of Cape Breton flicker one after another through my thoughts like a jittery slideshow from the seventies. I remember how my mother used to call me her little water baby. Even on overcast days, I would stay in the chilled water for hours, after everyone else had retreated back to beach blankets and beach reads. I had tea parties under the sea until my fingertips turned blue. Crying, I remember my father bounding in to join me in the water. He swept me up above the ocean, rocking me back and forth a few times, then tossing me back into the water’s choppy depths. It was more fun than any rollercoaster ride I could imagine.

The underwater of those long August days, sun poking her nose into the water and transforming the ocean floor to gold, is so different from the ink-dark underwater I now face nightly. Grief teaches you a sunken language only some will be able to understand. Still sobbing at three a.m., I glaze myself slick with klonopin and little blue jewels of cannabis, until I can finally sleep.

Sister says Dad may never see the house in Cape Breton again. House that burped dead voles into its bathtub, house we painted a rebellious shade of brick every August. Paint peeling almost instantly. House of my father’s heart.

I picture him, arms to oar, muscled forearms gliding us across the lake that led to our private stretch of blue-pebbled beach. Every summer, he toasted himself three shades deeper. Golden as hashbrown. I remember his approval, teeth flashing down at me, as I sprawled in the yard after a long day of red paint and turpentine. The smell so sharp, it choked me. His grin— two nods in quick succession— makes the memories smell more like rhubarb crisp my mother made for us every summer, straight from the garden. Smell more like dusty potatoes Sister and I peeled ten pounds at a time, our father frying them into crisped mounds, glistening with oil. Our mother flouring fried cod to match.

Sister and I; barefoot, sand-speckled; poured sea glass and snail shells in small piles around the house. House where friendly voles skittered free. House where we read in collective quiet every evening. My father churning popcorn on the stove, passing each of us a salt-slick, pillowed pile. The morning after, he was always eager to bound up his favorite mountain, metal canteen bouncing against hip.

Sometimes, when he watched the ocean swell at mountain’s feet, I imagined I could hear quiet prayers forming on his atheist lips. He loves to watch the famous green flash of sun saying goodbye to sea, squinting out wide windows of the screened-in porch he built himself.

When I shutter my eyes, I can still feel his hands at my waist the first time I went snorkeling. The simple sleek of a lobster’s red shell left me slack-jawed. A starfish’s stillness stilled my own breath. My father may never see Cape Breton again.

Instead of sobbing, I focus on how firmly he held my stem-thin waist in the low slurp of the Atlantic. I drew close to a jellyfish, imagined it as giant eye. Peering into its red wobble, I wished to never leave Cape Breton. This holy saltwater still. My father.


Robin Kinzer is a queer, disabled poet, memoirist, editor, and occasional teacher. She once played a communist beaver in a PBS documentary. Robin has poems and essays published, or forthcoming, in Cleaver Magazine, Kissing Dynamite Poetry, Blood Orange Review, fifth wheel press, Delicate Friend, Anti-Heroin Chic, and others. She’s a Poetry Editor for the winnow magazine. She loves glitter, Ferris wheels, vintage fashion, bisexual lighting, sloths, and radical empathy. She can be found on Twitter at @RobinAKinzer and at


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page