093

093

Monday, March 27, 2017

BUTTERFLIES AND POLAROIDS




I wrote this a bit ago, some have read it and some have not.  I want sure if it was public ready, bit what the hell


BUTTERFLIES AND POLAROIDS

Meredith Jane Baumgartner saw the world as a kaleidoscope of adventure.  She was the temporary owner of every stray dog, the bully smasher of Henry David Thoreau grammar school, and my kid sister.

She used to chase butterflies in the vacant lot behind the house.  Wide eyed and skinned knees, She would stand perfectly still among the wild flowers and try to get the monarchs to land on her.  Sometimes, she got lucky, but most times she fidgeted like a bag of angry squirrels.

I have a box of Polaroids, dozens of photographs that show M.J. chasing, diving, falling and  failing to catch what might have been a butterfly, she caught a leaf that was colored a little like a sick moth once, but  she never caught a butterfly, except for the one time.

One day, right before Summer became not Summer.  M.J. came barrelling up the alley to the front step of the house.  She had just learned about the harm caused by stepping on cracks and lines, so the journey to where I was sitting was wrought with the incredible potential to destroy our mother’s back.

“Hey DaAanielllll!  She screamed as she skipped and jumped across our worn sidewalk.  She was using the short form of my official title.  I was three years older then M.J. and until she figured out that she was probably smarter than me, My full name was Hey Daniel Why.

“DaAaniellll!!!” she yelled, “I got one, I really got one.”  she stopped, dead, in front of me and extended her filthy arm.

“Whaaat do you want shrimp?”  I replied.

She held the wings of the big brilliant monarch butterfly between her tiny fingertips.  She used so much pressure the ends of her fingers had turned white. Her smile was wide with achievement.

“I wanted you to see.  I caught one, I finally caught one.”

I looked at the butterfly, its wings pressed together.  I saw the smile on her face.  I watched as she released her fingers.

“Fly away!” She compassionately coached

The butterfly unflappingly fell to the ground, and I could see her smile fall, I could see her heart break and there was nothing I could do.

I took a Polaroid of the dead butterfly on the asphalt.  Meredith buried her face into my filthy Pink Floyd t-shirt and pretended not to cry.

“Hey Daniel Why. . .” She muttered, using my full name.

 “Some people say that butterflies are how souls get to heaven.”  I don’t know why I said it.  It was just something I had learned in school.  It was a myth or something.  “The Greek word for butterfly is Psyche.  Psyche means soul.”  I shouldn’t have said it, but the words fell out of my mouth.

“Did I stop it, can it still get to. . . “. She stopped to sniffle.  The kaleidoscope in her head stopped and the colors drained away in her tears.  She picked up the butterfly body and began to bury it next to the tree the city planted last summer after they tore up and then put in a new sidewalk.

“I'll fix it.” I said. “We can make it better.”  It was a big brother lie.  Big brother lies are what make the world turn.
I snapped a picture of the asphalt that had once held the body of the fallen butterfly.  I carefully mixed the photo in the pack of that days polaroids.

I took Meredith’s hand and together we walked towards the gigantic vanity mirror in mom’s bedroom. I picked M.J. up and stood her on the worn wooden top.  Mom would have killed me if she found out, we weren’t supposed to be in her room, much less climbing on her furniture.

I handed M.J. the photo with the cellophane tape already attached,

“Tape the picture to the glass.”  I said as she reached to accomplish the task.

“Like this DaAanielll?”  she sing songed at me, and placed the picture side against the glass.

I helped her down.

“Some people used to believe that if you took their picture, you were stealing their soul.”  I explained

Meredith “uh-huhed” me weakly, pretending she really understood.

“And some people believe that mirrors can be gateways to places, like Alice’s looking glass.  It’s why birds crash into windows, they are just trying to fly to a magical place.  If we do this right we can send the butterfly’s soul to a magical place whene they can fly from flower to flower forever.”

“Really?”  She said, her eyes a little wider.

“Would Hey Daniel Why lie to you?”  I smiled, hating myself a little bit.

M.J. Went shopping with mom for shoes or a coat or school supplies.  I don’t remember, but it was long enough  to switch the photos.

The next day my named changed to Hey Daniel What, as in, Hey Daniel What happened to the butterfly?  I told her it was super secret magic stuff, and she believed me.  I felt bad about the deceit, but proud that I took away her pain.  I don't know where that places me morally, but I don't think it matters any more.

I'm thinking about this stupid story as I the cab pulls up to her house.  I'm carrying my old Polaroid and a box of photos.  I realize I haven't seen her since the wedding, since she and Geoffrey the barbarian moved out of state.

Geoffrey was the kind of guy that you loved until you realized you hated everything about him.  He was overbearing and a special kind of nonsensical blue collar condescension entered a room about two minutes before he did.  He was a self serving revisionist of the highest caliber, and these were the non-chemical reasons not to like him.

So yesterday when she called out of the blue, and told me that everything was fine but in a way that made me not believe her. I called mom, which was pointless, and the airport, which was frustrating..

So, here I am, getting out of a cab in a too clean suburb, three states from home.  I’m following a hunch that M.J. accidently killed another butterfly and needed some of the super secret magic stuff.

I could hear the argument as I approached the stairs.  In the suburbs they call these things discussions, but I knew better.  Discussions usually involved an exchange of ideas, an argument involved irrational yelling and occasional property damage.

“I don't have a problem.  You have the problem.  I'm fine with my drinking.  I don't need to go to a meeting, maybe you need to go to a meeting!!”  Geoffrey the barbarian, stopped yelling long enough to light a cigarette.

Geoffrey stood in the doorway as I kept my distance.  He was leering at me as he dragged his smoke.  He may have been silently threatening me, but the cocaine he had for breakfast made it difficult to get a read on him.  He was too sniffy and twitchy.  Those conditions don’t occur overnight.

“GET OUT” I could hear  Meredith yelling as large a glass ashtray missed Geoffrey's head and shattered on the door frame.  “I DON'T WANT YOU COMING BACK HERE, JUST GET THE FUCK OUT”. Her voice was going hoarse.

I snapped his picture with my polaroid.  Geoffrey didn’t seem to like that and started to take a step towards me.  I shook my head and set my gear in the driveway.  This was not going to be the day I got my ass kicked by a drunken coke head.

I put the new polaroid in my jacket pocket, and Geoffrey the barbarian snorted like a bull as he walked away.  I suddenly realized the Geoffrey was like one of those jokes that you found hysterical in college and 20 years later you realize exactly how offensive it was and you feel really guilty for finding it funny in the first place.

I picked up my gear after the barbarian had gotten into his car and drove away.  I had an ambivalent feeling wash over me for halfway hoping he would have an accident or at least a DUI.  It was irrelevant.  M.J. had to be the primary concern.

I knocked on the still open door, but there was no reply.  Upon entering the small house, I realized that more than an ashtray had been thrown.  The room was littered with broken glassware and dishes.  CDs and vinyl records were cracked and scattered in piles all around the room.  I clicked the polaroid, and felt like one of those crime scene guys on those tv shows I refuse to watch.

When I finally found M.J. she was on the floor of the bathroom.  She was crying and hugging the toilet like a repentant drunk.  I didn’t say anything.  I snapped another polaroid.

“It’s for the family album.”  I said, trying to lighten an uncomfortable situation,

M.J. smiled and then flipped me of.  “It would make a great Christmas card.”  I can include it with the letter of all the things that happened to us this year.”

“I can see it now: This year we bought a new puppy,  Geoffrey dabbled in illegal non-prescription drugs, and I survived a hurricane.”  It was only half funny.

M.J. punched me in the stomach as I helped her to her feet.  She looked small, smaller than she did on the butterfly day.  She looked like someone had spent a long time viciously holding her wings together trying to keep her from flying.

“Get packed”  I told her.  “Pack like you aren’t coming pack.”

I felt guilty.  I told her that I would fix it.  I told her that we would make it okay.  I thought I had.  I thought I set the butterfly free, I thought I set M.J. free, but  I was wrong, and I wasn’t going to let it happen again.

I pasted the new photo of my sister against the broken bathroom  mirror face down, just like the butterfly. Loaded the luggage into her mini-van and drove away.  Part of me wanted to set the house on fire and not look back, but I’t  not a tough guy and the lesson learned is that if you love something, you don’t squeeze it tight, you cradle it, so it doesn’t fall, but can still fly when it needs to.

About two states into the trip, M.J. grabs my arm and squeezes.  We stop at some stupid roadside attraction and have a stranger take out photograph (twice).  I keep that photo, face up, in the mirror in my house, and the last time I saw M.J., she was sitting in her butterfly garden taking pictures with my polaroid, and our picture was taped to her mirror too.

Friday, November 18, 2016

In a Dive Bar With Captain America

In a Dive Bar With Captain America

He sipped his Coca Cola
Smiled weakly
Scratched his head

I failed (he whispered)
I’m supposed to be
Bigger
Better
Than this
I’m supposed to stand for
The tired and poor
For the homeless and huddled masses
I’m supposed to be the New Colossus
The guardian of the golden door
Of life
liberty and
the pursuit of happiness

Behind his tired eyes
You can see a kid from Brooklyn
Bullied
Beaten

I’ve seen the faces
Lost
Like they’ve always been
I’ve seen the bodies
Of fascist regimes
But I’ve always
believed/hoped/known
We (America)
Stood for
. . . something

The good old days
Weren’t always good
But they don’t show that on
Television
And no one
Remembers
              ( . . .I do)

His fist clenches as he watches
Some random news coverage
Some death toll
Some protest turned violent
Some stop and frisk gunshot video
Some American on American crime scene
He coughs
Choking on the irony of

ONE NATION UNDER GOD

Monday, August 1, 2016

an Abecedarian for the record. it is what it is

okay kids, the Poetry Pentathlon is approaching fast, and as an exercise, I try to write for any of the events that I am unfamiliar or unskilled at.  I have done a few Abecedarians in the past but none that I really liked.  I hope the contestants find better X and Z word than I did.

so... here it is.

fighting the cynical overtones:an abecedarian

All I can do is
Breathe
Count to ten and
Decide not to destroy the world
Enforcing this ritual
Focuses my energy

Given my nature
Harnessing my negative
Intentions is a
Jury rigged solution at best
Keeping control
Likens me to a werewolf

Maybe it's irrelevant
Nobody really knows
Or cares
Perhaps in the the future this
Quandary will have more
Relevance or impact or 
Something

Thinking has become passe
Under unreasonable circumstances
Varying only slightly for media fuel
Whatever
X-rays are clean one minute

Zap...the next you're dead

Sunday, July 10, 2016

new thing I wrote this morning (LOST)

There were fireworks
Over by the lake
It was written
on the concrete steps
in spray paint
Faded
And written again


I’'m lost
in a confused world
Or is it
Confused
In a lost world”


Somewhere a transistor radio played


      And we all
                Shine
                     On


And I realized
America
Is built on
gunpowder
sulfur and
Bat shit (crazy)


We have no knights
No samurai
No chivalry or Bushido


When they say “Infidel”
They are talking about you
                                            And me
                                                  The faithless


Faceless thieves
Armed with
          blunderbuss
          Musket
          flintlock
          Glock
         .44 silver automatic,
          Saturday night special


A nation of
highwaymen


     Stolen land
          Stolen faith
               Stolen culture
               Let me show you where the bodies are buried
               Let me show you the ashes from the crosses
               Let me redefine justice


     Lost in a confused world
     Or
     Confused
     In a lost
    World


Give peace
A chance
               Peace
               lost the lottery
And what kills you
Kills me
And what doesn't kill us
Is supposed to be
our common ground


I breathe
You breathe
Let’s clear the air


     Lost
     in a confused world
     Or is it confused
     In a lost
     World


written for all to see
I remember fireworks
and a song on the radio



     Lost 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

STONE PIGEON SOCIETY 2016


I like to watch pigeons
Solitary
They fly when frightened
In small collectives
They flinch

In the rain
Huddled in the eaves or
Perched on the wire
Grey and
Pink and
White and
Brown and
Oil slick green
Gathered for warmth

The Pigeons in the square
Part and close in
Red sea fashion
Yield for the passerby and
Defiantly reclaim for the Collective

All Pigeons are
made of stone
And fire
The picture of balance
Of maligned grace
Fearful when alone
United when it counts

We have so much to learn

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Commencement Speech

Deep breaths, Drink water. It'll be fine.

     “Are you okay Dr. Bradford?”

Kid with glasses makes me nervous, must be honor society, I was honor society
“I'm fine. I just have issues with public speaking.”
and this fucking room, why did it have to be here?

     “I saw your speech on gun violence before the House Committee. You seemed so eloquent.”

Kiss ass
“I was sweating buckets, but thanks”

drink water, straighten tie, stick to the story.
“Can You get me a yearbook from 1983, I need to confirm some data.”
There are no yearbooks from 1983.

     “Yes sir”

Patience, the Dean of Students can't talk forever, god knows he'll try, but he's dull. That's why I'm here. I'm a litigator, an expert on gun control reform, I've spoken to presidents, made speeches in front of Senate Committees.
I will be fine
as soon as the terror stops

(applause)
Not yet
breathe
drink water
straighten tie
(feedback)
“students, parents, families and friend. When we chose tonight's speaker, we wanted to make sure that he was a person of great character, a person of substance and moral fiber. So when I say we have found a speaker worthy of being called the best and the brightest ever to be shaped by the time they spent here at James Bricker Academy, I can hold hold this person up as example of the excellence we strive for. This man was a National Honor Society member, President of the photography club, Editor of the student literary review, and Valedictorian for the class of 1986.
May I present, Author, Lawyer, and Statesman, Dr. Michael Bradford”

(applause)
walk and breathe and walk and breathe

“Thank you very much. I'm here to talk to you about the future, about life and college and how to reach for your dreams.”
Clear throat
Drink

“I spent 4 years here at Bricker Academy and spent most of them working my ass off. At age 15 my life was school, school related things, homework, and occasionally I spent time talking to my therapist about school, school related things, and homework.
“My fine introduction mentioned that I was Valedictorian, not Prom King, not All State Athlete, not Class Clown. Valedictorians can be invisible, for the most part. I learned my first year here that it's best not to be noticed, to keep your head down
“I'm not gonna lie to you now, I was an unhappy kid. My life was books and study and therapy. I only had one friend, but he was the best.
“The teachers called him Jerry, which he hated.  His name was Gerard T. Collins and he spent far too much of his life telling people that particular fact.  His name was not Gerald or Jerry and if you knew him at all you called him Gerard.  The folks who didn’t know Gerard referred to him as “Spaz”, “Freak” or, on especially hurtful occasions “Weird Boy”  The last one was used mostly by upper class men and cheerleaders.
“In 1982, Gerard turned 14 years old.  I remember because I was to turn 14 two days later, and I spent those two days bugging him about how it felt to be 14.  Somehow, in the back of my head, I was convinced that 14 was when you became a big kid.  You stopped being afraid of stuff.  The Monsters beneath your bed disappeared, you no longer got the shit kicked out of you after school and girls found you instantly attractive.  I have grown to learn that all these things are fallacious and, in hindsight, I should have held on to 13 for as long as I could.
“The Summer of 1982 was filled with stories of the Tylenol Killer and the AIDS scare, Tommy Tutone was sharing Jenny’s phone number with anyone who listened to top 40 radio. Gerard and I spent our time reviewing old Playboy magazines, stolen from our fathers. Hoping that they would make more sense this time around.
“We were all set to start our new school.  James Bricker Academy seemed like a glowing Xanadu.  It was just the local public High School with a fancy name, but to us...it was the start of reinvention.  Gerard had come to the decision that he was no longer going to be looked down upon.  Spaz, Freak, Weird Boy, all things of the past.
“I remember our first day of class.  Gerard walking around with his head held high and Humming “Eye of the Tiger” in his head.  It was supposed to be different, but it wasn’t.  Jocks and cheerleaders called him Weird Boy.  They called him Spaz as they slammed him into the lockers.  The taunts of “Freak” echoed as we got the shit kicked out of us after school.
“Looking around the halls, I can see the adventures of that year, replayed in my mind. I can see Gerard getting his arm broken in the hall way, His ribs bruised out by the the James Bricker Academy sign, the one that reads 'Educating for a better tomorrow'.
“I never really thought about it.  I was just the sidekick of “Weird Boy”, friend of the freak, just a Spaz associate, and you think that all of that would matter to me, but Gerard was my friend.  He helped me get through Algebra.  He lived in my room for three days after my Mom died.  When I think of the time I ran away from home.  It was Gerard who ran with me.  It was Gerard who called my Dad from the pay phone in the library and told him where we were.  Those things mattered.
“I spent the school year of 82/83 being tossed into lockers and dumpsters.  I had my clothes stolen while I showered after gym class.  I was beaten and humiliated on a regular basis, and I didn’t care.  Gerard had taken some serious hits for me and I was, sure as hell, not gonna let him go through this alone.  Gerard was my friend and that, more than anything else, meant something.
“I realize that I’ve been talking forever,  I’m supposed to be talking about your future, not my past.  When they asked me to come back to the hallowed halls of James Bricker Academy and make this speech at your graduation all I could think of is Gerard Collins.  I think about how he came to this school everyday in hopes that maybe it was going to be the day when no one treated him like shit.  Where no one called him Spaz or Freak or Weird Boy,  He would have settled for someone calling him Jerry.
“I’m telling you these things because the curriculum at Bricker is lacking.  It is lacking today in the same way it was lacking then.  There is no class in kindness, no awards given for excellence in the treatment of other human beings.  Kids believe what they’re told, especially what they are told everyday.
“My friend, Gerard T. Collins was told he was a Spaz, a Freak.  They called him Weird Boy.  On May 27th 1983, Gerard T. Collins, my best friend in the whole world, attended an assembly much like this one.  At 12:43 pm he place a .38 caliber revolver under his chin and pulled the trigger.
“He didn’t leave a note, he didn’t say goodbye, we all watched it.  I was standing next to him when he pulled the trigger.  I didn’t even know it was happening until it was over.  It never made the papers.  They talked about AIDS and they caught the Tylenol Killer and something happened in politics, but no one told the story of Weird Boy.  No one knew that he lived in my room for three days when my Mom died.
“We all went to another assembly, we were told the counselor was available. I spent 3 months away from school when my therapist thought it best that I return to Bricker. I learned to keep my head down, learned to be invisible.”

There are no yearbooks from 1983

“In 1986 I graduated from James Bricker Academy.  I got as far away as college acceptance letters allowed, and I swore I’d never return to the scene of the crime.  So when I was asked to come back to give this speech, when they called me one of their most successful alumni, when they said I was a shining example of a Bricker Academy education...I threw up a little.”
drink water
loosen tie

“I keep remembering that sign in front of the building 'Educating for a Better Tomorrow' and I think of how this institution has failed you all
“I came here to tell you this story.  I came here to tell you that the most important person who ever went to this institution was Gerard T. Collins.  He was kind, and no one ever took the chance to find that out.  No one ever taught  that it was the most important thing to be.  Not on the street and definitely not in the halls of Old Bricker.
“I was asked to come here today and offer advice on how to be successful after you leave this place.  The only thing I can tell you is “learn to be kind”.  It’s harder and more important than anything else.”
(silence)
remove tie
empty water
breathe
“Thank you for your attention”
walk away

(feedback)
copyright 2016 David Hargarten/Buddha309