by Anne Born

I am a pilgrim.

I choose
To leave a predictable life,
To carry so little,
To walk for days and days,
To pray in the presence of a saint
In a sacred space.

The symbol of this pilgrim
Is not a full dinner served on a bountiful table.
Or all those photos of Sunday-best clothed cousins in front,
Proud grown ups in the back.

It’s a seashell.
On a fraying bit of rope.

To carry while I walk,
To be my calling card,
To take the place of my past,
My name,
My provenance —
To help write my future.

I bought it years ago
In a tiny mountain town in France
Before beginning
And I’ve carried it across Spain
For years since.

It’s cracked a little from the time it fell
And someone caring came up to me running,
Did you drop this? I think it’s yours.
It looks like yours.
It looked like his.

It’s the best essence of me
A reminder to walk,
A reminder to love,
A reminder of where I’ve been
And why I also choose not to look back.

A pilgrim.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Ultreya! Souvenirs from walking the Camino de Santiago.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: If Marie Kondo is right, you should only keep objects that spark joy. I like to keep objects that spark memory — sometimes joyful, sometimes sad, but the object is an agent for memory. For over 1,000 years, pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago have carried seashells to identify themselves as pilgrims — not only to fellow pilgrims but to the great number of people along the road who offer assistance and protection. In May 2009, this shell was picked from a basket of one-Euro shells in the pilgrims’ office in St. Jean Pied de Port, France, traditionally the beginning of the Camino Frances, or French Route to Santiago de Compostela — a journey from that point in the French Pyrenees of over 800 kilometers to the medieval city of Santiago de Compostela in Northwest Spain. I’ve carried this shell with me on four shorter pilgrimages in Spain from 2009 to 2014 — only leaving it at home when I walked this past May because I worried I might lose it if I took it on one more hike. It reminds me of the pilgrim on the bike in 2010 who waited for me to catch up to him, offering to carry my backpack on his bike. It reminds me of the woman I met who vowed if she ever became cancer-free, she would walk the Camino. It reminds me of how important it is to be able to step away from your life just long enough to find your life. It reminds me of why we walk — to pray at the cathedral of Saint James, the resting place of the Apostle. The Camino de Santiago is my bliss.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Anne Born is the author of A Marshmallow on the Bus (2014), Prayer Beads on the Train (2015), and Waiting on a Platform (2016). Her work has been published in the Newtown Literary Journal and in “Me, as a Child” and ”All About My Name” Series published by Silver Birch Press. She is the editor of These Winter Months: The Late Orphan Project Anthology  (2016), and her essay on Hillary Clinton’s religious faith was included in Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox, edited by Joanne Bamberger. Her poetry has been featured in New York at Boundless Tales, Word Up Community Bookstore, and the Queens Council on the Arts. She has been a featured performer with Inspired Word New York City, the New York Transit Museum, and on Queens Public TV in The World of Arts. Anne divides her time between New York and Michigan, and the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Follow Anne Born at The Backpack Press, and on Twitter, Redbubble, Wattpad, and Instagram @nilesite. Listen to her in the Bronx podcasts on Our Salon Radio.