I’m afraid I always look like I’m wearing a unicorn costume,
a cheap one, from a Halloween shop that still sells rubber Nixon masks.
I’m afraid to hear an echo of mouths going tut-tut, tongues clucking,
eyebrows lifting askance. I’m afraid of being seen as insane,
of not being thoroughly man. This is one of the mistakes God made,
leaving me like this, God the man baker, God the accident maker.
I’m afraid that all but the person I’m talking with,
who can be very pleasant, are conspiring,
filling the world with oceans of urea.
I’m afraid my lavender shakra does not reach
into the center of my head. If asked on a scale
of one to one hundred how bad is this?
Thirty-eight, the age at which I rented furniture
and bought roses for my birthday. The dressed tables
looked a little church-basementy, but I had a good time.
Fear has a sound, a Titanic sigh, a threatening,
nightmarish motion, the force of a woodland tale.
The food I’m afraid of is chicken.
Two hours on your kitchen table, and whomp—botulism.
I’ve never been kidnapped, but I’ve dreamed about it—
prohibition gangsters in pin-striped suits,
faces like grain wholesalers, spiriting me out of the city
to my brother’s grave and leaving me there,
hillsides bare of trees, rocks with no moss, an absence of green.
I once said, I will never be afraid like that of anything, ever again.
I suppose if I’d thought about it, I might have said,
I don’t like being this afraid.
Jimmy, Skip and I pump down 46th past granite houses of curtained priests,
grain milling millionaires, and drunk Norwegians arguing with Swedes,
median strip grass blurred and green as Minnesota can make it.
Between Guse Hardware and Wimpy’s Hamburgers sits Jim’s Radio & TV.
At his bench Jim’s thick, darkened fingers wind bare steel wire,
drip silver solder from a glowing tip he blows with pursed lips
like a scribe drying ink on a Vatican manuscript.
He leans back as if he’s finished brewing a fine Scotch,
twists the on/off knob on an AM Tube Superheterodyne Portable,
and eight-bar plucking of Hit Parade guitars floats out
from tweed speaker cloth like heavy waves at Newport.
Polished steel capsule microphones, neat coils of wire,
towering hot metal boxes of amplified modulation meant for girders
vibrating red and white, flashing to warn low-flying craft,
all brought to you by Wheaties Whole Grain Flake Cereal.
Pocket-sized spools of cladded copper wire hang like Christmas tree ornaments
same as Edison, Marconi, Dubilier, Fessenden used in top hats and rubber-soled shoes
to guard against electrocution. We don’t have white coats or shirred, oiled hair,
our fingers are coated with Dreamsicle juice and dogshit,
acolytes of Jim we stand, the Brotherhood of Radio Stations.
(It might have been Sisterhood but Susie Locke quit—
two years older with green eyes for bigger boys than we.)
Back at headquarters I twist bare wire ends onto my Shure microphone
no bigger than a pack of Pall Malls, angled on its wire stand like a quizzical robot.
I strip purple insulation from a shiny strand, bend it without puncturing a finger,
tape it to the outside hole-punched flange that sticks out from the volume control.
We lean in close, and I intone, I have a bike, a Schwinn 24-incher, welded steel
and sea blue enamel, that rolls down asphalt day or night. I am here. I have arrived.
I am on the air.
Bill Ratner is a Poets & Writers Readings & Workshops Grant recipient. His performances are featured on National Public Radio’s Good Food, The Business, and KCRW’s Strangers. He is a 9-time winner of The Moth Story Slams. His forthcoming chapbook is being published by Finishing Line Press May, 2021. His poems, essays, and stories are published in The Chiron Review, The Baltimore Review, Rattle Magazine’s Rattlecast, Pleiades, KYSO Flash, South Florida Poetry Journal, Rat’s Ass Review, Nixes Mate, Willawaw Journal, Missouri Review Audio, and other journals. He is the author of Familius Books’ Parenting for the Digital Age: The Truth Behind Media’s Effect on Children, an Indie Excellence Book Award winner. As a voice actor he is heard on movie trailers, computer games, etc. Info at: http://billratner.com/author • @billratner