Crumble Cake: The California Coast

A Letter to America by Toni Mirosevich

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The sea will have its way with you.

All that once stood firm began to fall away; first to go, the condemned apartment buildings at land’s end, their backyard railings falling into the sea, in the storm’s big blow. Next, the patios; cracks appeared in the concrete, widened into fissures, fault lines, then whole sections broke apart and fell down the cliffs like calving icebergs. Along went the patio furniture, the Adirondack chairs, the big umbrella, a rusting barbeque grill. Now past the yard, the waves, emboldened, came inside and took what was in each unit; a sofa, a dining set, a coffee table, a big screen TV. Then the bunk beds, a desk, a stuffed bear falling over the edge, tumbling down the cliff, later to be seen floating, turning over and over in the waves until it went from sight.

The houses across the street from the apartments went next, houses with a view of the sea, million-dollar views, they too were too close to the edge, they went too. As people rushed to their cars with photo albums, files, the dog, the kids, someone was heard to ask, “Will we all crumble away? Is it crumbling away, this way of life?”

What does that mean, this way of life?

“We’re on standby,” is what others said, those who weren’t yet told to grab what they could, to get out now. They were waiting for the last moment, waiting for more destruction, the beauty of it all, the sea tossing rocks at their windows, splintering the glass, the outside was now the inside. Then it was all outside.    

Then there was no time left.

“We had to move at a moment’s notice,” is what people said when asked. Which moment was that? Wasn’t there something to notice in each and every one? Did those who once lived there try to trace back to the first time, the first moment they began to wonder, to notice that new sound in the night—“What was that, John? A burglar? A mouse?”—the sound of crumbling, a clod of dirt shifting underneath the building’s floor, spilling, how flour spills over the measuring cup’s edge. Crumble cake.

Those who lived up the hill, out of harm’s way, drove down to the sea. At a safe distance, they stood and watched as the storm kept coming in, came in, watched the waves shoot the shore. Then, a loud sound, a thunderous crack. “That’s the pier,” said a bystander. “Maybe a piling or one of the cement supports.” In the distance they saw waves hit the bottom of the pier, shoot that high, then go higher, arc over the pier, a trellis of water and foam. A pier wall fell in, another leaned out.

“The sea will have its way with you, darling,” is what an old salt said.

And what will happen to those benches on the pier, the one dedicated to the Crab King’s beloved wife? Or to the benches dedicated to others who loved to fish or not fish, who once walked out just to gaze at the sea? Where will the people go, the ones who are tied to the sea, who must be near it, breathe it, feel its spray? In time those cement benches and their memorials will go too, we’ll all go, get on board, and look, here comes the biggest yet, a wave that’s higher than the land, that takes up half the sky, look at it climb, here it comes, here it is.     

A piece of cake, someone said. This life. It’s all a piece of cake.



Toni MirosevichToni Mirosevich is the author of seven books of poetry and prose, most recently Spell Heaven: And Other Stories (Counterpoint Press, 2022). She is a professor emerita of creative writing at San Francisco State University and Poet Laureate of Pacifica, California.

Read Ann Guy’s interview with Toni Mirosevich in “Falling into Memory.”

Original header photo by Lee Chandler, courtesy Pixabay.



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