Bad Day (The Shots You Don’t Take)

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Bad Day (The Shots You Don’t Take)

I was stopped for speeding earlier this week, and justifiably so, unless the cop was just profiling every black guy who just happened to be going 43 in a 25mph residential area. (I was late for work. That’s no excuse for driving like a menace, but it is a valid reason.)

In the aftermath, I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking for the remainder of the day. As a child, I never grasped why my family collectively feared police, but by age 45, I completely understood the subtle nuances. I laughed at the long, subtle transition of perspective, especially in this era when one false twitch can make guys who look like me into a hashtag (#BarryD #HeWasHarmless #HeWasScaredOfSpidersAndCopsAndBeingLateForWork).

My boneheaded commute had earned me a two-hundred-dollar citation, but I wasn’t lying lifeless face-down on the pavement riddled with peace-keeper rounds, so I considered it a net-win. All things considered, it was just a bad day that could’ve been far worse.

I discussed this with wifey, and she said that us humans have a one-hundred-percent survival rate during bad days. I supposed that was true, even while dismissing this as a bland “You miss one-hundred percent of the shots you don’t take” motivational slogan. But then I began to analyze this statement, and while technically true, on the occasion that a bad day is not survivable, depending on various lifespans, your bad-day survival rate drops anywhere from 90 to 99.9999 percent, which is not too shabby, all things considered.

Granted, your percentage will never again increase on account of you being dead and all.

So, you will either survive your bad day, or you will perish from it. But more often than not, you will survive it. I consider that a net-win. I told Wifey there’s a poem in there somewhere, and I hoped to fish it out. She urged me to reconsider, but you only miss one-hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.

November stormfront
frozen rain stings rosy cheeks
I blush through the grey
***

Written for dVerse Haibun Monday: Transitions, hosted by Merril D. Smith.

Last Gasp

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Photo by John Jennings on Unsplash

Last Gasp

A Traveler searching the cosmos for entities worthy of elevation to Their plain of existence, upon trillions upon trillions of millennia, countless dust-specs orbiting one insignificant glowing orb after another, upon becoming disillusioned after the last red dwarf about 7.9 light years ago yielded no intelligent life, no rocky shores, no gas giants, not even the hint of an orbital debris-disk, had reached Their lowest point when suddenly, They encountered an unremarkable main-sequence star with thriving bedazzled bodies including eight stout jewels, with the third-from-center dazzling; an aqua-marine lively thing with atmosphere, liquid, and life, including intelligent life that was taking baby-steps in exploring itself and understanding the nature of things.

The Traveler was overjoyed. But then They looked deeper, seeing that this intelligent, relatively new life was rotting from within; at war with itself, exploiting and treating those perceived as lesser with contempt, fear, and hatred, hording food, healing, and education in exchange for trinkets of no intrinsic cosmic value – all at the calamitous global expense of poisoning the very environment they needed to survive, justifying all of this with superstition, dogma, and the disingenuous type of religion that closes minds from fully grasping the nature of things.

The Traveler sighed the resigned sigh of One who has seen this particular scene far too many times in Their travels. But there was no time to contemplate this decaying world’s all-too-brief impending fate; perhaps there will be better luck at the next star over, which is actually a binary system, so perhaps not. Still, the search must go on if the Traveler is to prove that They’re not roaming Infinity alone, searching for meaning within the nature of things.

the leaf never knew
what she was when she reddened
falling from the tree

no one else saw her twirling
only I mourned her last gasp
***

Written for dVerse Haibun Monday: Murmuration, hosted by guest blogger qbit/Randall. Others contributed to this prompt here.

Day 2 – Laundry Room Confessions

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Photo by Romain Robe on Unsplash

Laundry Room Confessions

The path beyond the garden soon to be rented by wifey and me in new life lied before us in sun-kissed San Diego adobe pastels when I caught a soon-to-be new neighbor sizing me up behind soon-to-be briskly shuttered blinds, disrupting what I thought to be a giant bee, but in actuality, was the first time I laid eyes on a hummingbird, which scurried away from our mutual startled scenery on wing of the bluest blues and rubiest ruby plumage I had ever seen, and my heart soared with her along unfamiliar blooming scent which smelled of promise and renewal, like nature herself was settling old scores.

As for my new neighbor, her blinds did not stay shuttered during our stay, though she stayed curiously guarded and curious of my own curiosity as we shared a thought or two, subconsciously synching our laundry days in the community laundry room, a respite from separate-but-equally unrelenting realities as she hid her bruises while I just hid and pretended not to notice, which wasn’t too far a bend for someone so frequently locked inside his own head; in fact, she said she’d never seen me smile in all our contrived, randomized encounters, and she wondered aloud if I was happy. Most times, a lie would do, but in this case, I felt she deserved to know the truth about that hummingbird.

it’s raining sunbeams
warming my faith, compassion
sunburns and bruises
***

Inspired by dVerse Haibun Monday: Faith prompt, hosted by Mish. I was going to try to stick to NaPoWriMo prompts this month, but today’s Day 2 prompt challenged us to play with voice and different tenses, and I feared that folks might be sick of me always playing with tense by now. Eager to see what Day 3 has in store!

 

Syrup

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Image source via google

Syrup

“I asked you to get real maple syrup,” she said.

“The fuck you talkin’ about?” I asked. “I got real syrup. It’s right there. See the bottle shaped like a lady?”

“I see it,” she said. “It’s okay, but it’s not real maple syrup.”

“There’s a difference?” I asked. “You fuckin’ with me, right? It don’t get no realer than the lady-bottle!”

“I’m talking about the real shit from the tree,” she replied. “Not this processed stuff.”

“Oh. My bad,” I said, trying to mask my wounded pride. “I honestly didn’t know. Must be a Black thing.”

“That’s no excuse,” she said. “Meh. Just squash it.*

And I squashed it, because she was right. It was no excuse, but it was a valid explanation, though a poorly-worded one lingering in that grey area.

It wasn’t a Black thing; it was a poverty thing.

Growing up in poverty, syrup was an unconventional indicator of how a family was doing financially. Strange, I know, but true. Another surprising thing about urban-American poverty; even when faced with syrup-sandwiches-and-sleep for dinner, we sometimes had the audacity of being picky.

Sometimes eating nothing was preferable to eating crap (which I’m just now understanding, is a relative term).

I’d wake up on a Saturday to the heavenly scent of pancakes only to find they were drowned in the sticky muck of something in a non-lady-shaped bottle with the word “Syrup” labeled in plain black-n-white font.

I’d take one look and be like, “God bless you for trying, mom. You did your best. Why don’t you just take a break and let me throw these pancakes in the garbage for you?” That obviously never went over well, but that’s another story.

But occasionally, Saturday pancakes were accompanied by the creamy, artificial goodness of the lady-shaped-bottle, alerting us to two things; (1) breakfast was going to be delicious, and (2) one of the parents had a come-up **, which meant there were many more delicious things in the pantry besides lady-shaped-syrup-bottles.

It’s funny for a forty-something male to not know the difference between real maple syrup and processed, lady-shaped-bottle syrup. I know this. But when I bought that crap, I was speaking a love language to my beloved that only I understood. My bad. It’s fun learning new things.

crisp, grey morning sky
sunshine drizzles her sweetness
memories of you
** *

Written for dVerse’s The beauty and the misery of grey – Haibun Monday, hosted by Bjorn. Go here to read other poets’ submissions.

I know I said I was taking a break from prompts to work on a passion project that I’m almost done with, but to quote Pacino as Michael Corleone:

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*squash it – urban slang, to abandon the conversation, agree to disagree, and move on to more positive topics.

**come-up – urban slang, an unexpected windfall, bargain, success, or other positive outcome benefitting a person or a group of people.

(Editor’s note: Much like Mrs. Butterworth’s isn’t “real” maple syrup, I’m aware that this post isn’t a “pure” Haibun. But y’all know ya’ boy likes to stir the pot a bit, so let’s just squash it. 🙂 We good, fam?)

 

Day 17 – Maritime Confrontation

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Image source: Unsplash.com

Maritime Confrontation

“Be careful,” my Workcenter Supervisor cautioned me before removing the cover to the seawater strainer. Training had begun on what was to be a monthly task in maintaining the ship radar’s heat-exchanger. Steve was stepping me through the process for the first time, cautioning me against the possibility of a poisonous sea snake popping out the strainer, biting me, liquifying my heart, making my blood boil, and writing a swastika on my lifeless forehead. (I may have imagined a few sea snake tendencies.) After I undid the last bolt, Steve slowly removed the lid. “Oh cool!” he exclaimed. “A tiny crab! Look, Barry!” On-cue, out popped a four-inch crab, claws brandished aggressively.

Fear is my lifelong companion. I don’t overcome it as much as I learn to live with it. My earliest memories involve being afraid. Of the dark. Of being different. Of being the same. Afraid of being teased for being afraid. Of the inevitable violence married to racism. Of getting my ass whupped over bad report cards. Afraid of dad beating mom. Of mom nearly killing dad. Of dad leaving and never coming back. Of mom nearly killing me. Of nearly being killed in gang-fight crossfire. Of mom nearly killing my brother. Of possibly being killed during nearly every pointless police shakedown for “fitting the description”. Afraid of failing. Of not trying. Of not being strong enough for Navy boot camp. Of drowning. Afraid of possibly becoming an addict like dad. Of possibly being a schizophrenic like mom. Of failing my wife and kids. Afraid of being exposed as a pointless muthaphucka with nothing substantial in my soul worth sharing.

But none of my fears prepared me for squaring off against a four-inch crab angrily defending his new saltwater strainer home.

“Aw HELLLLLLL naw!!!” I wailed, wheeling around, tearing through the hatch, through the junior-officer jungle, my slipstream waking the ensigns, narrowly avoiding turning my division officer into a speedbump, out the exit hatch, trying to control my rapid breathing, hearing my bemused Div-O ask Steve, “What the fuck was that all about?!?” which, after a beat, was followed by uproarious laughter.

The navy trained me to rely on my training when confronting fear, but my hilarious fight-or-flight antics must’ve hit Steve square in his empathy chip. He never even tried to assign me strainer duty again after that. And hell naw, I sure as shit never brought it up.

And crabs are delicious. Except for when they’re alive. And bite-sized.

the sea gently rocks

I breathe in her promises

centered and focused

** *

Written for dVerse Haibun Monday: The only thing we have to fear… hosted by Toni Spencer (kanzensakura, hayesspencer). Drop by and check out everyone’s contributions to this prompt.

 

Elegy of Laughing Duets

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Image source: Unsplash.com

Elegy of Laughing Duets

The officer smirked, trying not to laugh. After admonishing dad for speeding, he walked back to his vehicle with a funny story for his coworkers; a tale of my dad slyly lying about the urgency of momma’s baby, due to deliver my brother two months from now, and of momma over-selling the shit out of her non-labor, as I, a terrified six-year-old, observed in saucer-eyed, horrified silence.

We must’ve been quite the sight; dad explaining his urgency to the cop with a softness that matched the long shadows just after the sun dipped below the spring-sprinkled horizon; momma – unprompted, on-cue, and with a scenery-chewing overacting exhibition to make Shatner wince – unsuccessfully selling the urgency dad had just lied about with the authenticity of a wildlife film narrator; me in the back seat, wide-eyed and instinctively quiet, taking it all in; the patrolman’s flashlight, an impromptu stage spotlight for our three-person routine (four if you’re counting my brother, but the cop didn’t buy it, so let’s just go with the trio.)

After a beat of silence, our eyes finally adjusted from the shock of the cop’s harsh halogen giving way to soft shades of amber, dad shook his head, a grin growing on his darkened face. He looked back at me. “You cool, B.J.?”

I nodded, and squeaked out a, “Yeah.”

“Yeaaaaah?” he repeated, mimicking me.

“I mean… yes,” I corrected myself with a smile, relieved that dad sounded like dad again.

We didn’t have a term for code-switching back then. It just felt like Dad was bilingual and was training me to be too. I knew that whenever he broke out the Wildlife Film Narrator voice that shit just got real. He always used it when white people were involved, and always when those white people were in positions of authority.

I instinctively knew to get my shit together whenever he used it.

If anyone heard his everyday-people vernacular, they’d have a hard time reconciling the fact that both voices were his. When dad was being dad, he always reminded me of Shaft-meets-Sho’nuff-the-Shogun-of-Harlem; brassy, cocky, and cool-as-hell. I admired both voices, knowing that Sho’nuff was dad’s native tongue. Both were authentic in a way; Sho’nuff was my dad, the Film Narrator was the long shadow cast by dad.

Momma code-switched too, but it never sounded as jarring as when dad did it. Mom’s tone was always a hairsbreadth lower than frantic; it was like she was barely holding things together in her head. But momma always sounded like momma, even when she was performing. Her professional voice reminded me of how folks talked on Dynasty before someone dipped in diamonds got their face slapped; unnecessarily British and whatnot.

Dad shot an incredulous glare at momma. “Really, Terri?” he crooned sarcastically, firmly back in Shogun form. “Nooo, officerrr… I’m not in dayyyneger of laaabor, but it HUUUUUURRRTS!” Dad mimicked momma’s impromptu histrionics perfectly.

“Oh hush, Barry! I was just tryin’ to help,” mom shot back between giggles. “You didn’t get the ticket, did you?”

Together, their gallows-laughter was the greatest musical duet I’ve ever heard. My parents loved comedy. Our bad days were terrible, but our good days could wring sunshine from a rainy evening dusk just like it did that spring evening. Dad’s laugh sounded like a chorus of good-humored seagulls. Mom’s laugh was carbonated; starting low, and then bubbling higher, eventually meeting dad’s seagulls high in the atmosphere. Though I’ll never hear either of their laughs again, it just occurred to me that they are always with me. Whenever I’m trying to make people laugh, all I’m really doing is trying to recapture this moment, if only for a moment.

sunset ignites clouds

terrain perfumed by rainclouds

inhale deep, smiling

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All four of us! (Mom is pregnant with my younger brother in this photo.)

** *

Written for NaPoWriMo’s day 3 prompt, an elegy. I was also inspired by dVerse’s Haibun Monday: The Shadow Knows, hosted by Hayesspencer. I didn’t share it on dVerse though, as this isn’t a traditional Japanese Haibun. I did enjoy writing it though. There were some laughs and tears during the writing process.

Want to see how traditional Haibun are supposed to be crafted? Go here.