Context

by Garret Potter

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1.
A bottle of safety I love when I hear "wfffht," the sound created by the friction of a liquid dispatched from the narrow nozzle of a spray bottle. I love the feel of its trigger in my first finger; I feel power to irrigate: whfffffffwht, like a light rain, whffwht, whffwht, like fireworks burst, whhhffffwhhh, like falling from a trapeze into a safety net. I listen... at 111 West Burnside, Portland, Oregon, I am working another twelve hour graveyard shift at the Rescue Mission. Our doorway is the funnel whereby Portlanders are collected, who are each one strike, one pay check, one family and friend short of maintaining the American illusion of independence. Like Quinn, who tells me, "I know you are trying to do good, but this is not a safe place to be." "There are no safe places,” I tell him, “The only place that is safe is the presence of someone who chooses to embody safety. There are no safe places… but you can offer one to me." And, with a smile and a hug he returns to his circling, and I go into work, where one of my many duties is cleaning— one of the only entities I can control. So, I am trigger happy, trying to follow my (own) advice to Quinn. As I spray, I listen. Shane enters at 2AM when the queer bar closes twelve blocks from here in Old Town. He's been weathering the winters without a home, for the past six years. He’s not only shivering from the cold, but from the symptoms of HIV, heart-ache, addiction, and fear. When my friend Shane walks in to wash away the sediment, I’ve got a towel in my hand, wiping down the glass, the counter tops, the sink, toilet seat, phone, doorknobs—everything —with a sanitizing solution that makes music when dispensed. I raise my ear hairs to attention... whfffwht! As Tom walks in the door at 3:15 AM, dirty and cold again, tired but somewhat cheerful. I ask, "What’s going on Tom?” "Oh, back out here on the street,” he says, after another thirty day round in temporary housing. He couldn’t save up enough to make it into his own rental, nor has he mustered the humility to admit to his fully grown kids that he lives outside, downtown, as he feels he has to. And, as Tom and I converse, I’ve opened the dispensers, refilling the paper towels and sanitizer, once again, cleaning, sharing the sweet safe symphony of... whfffwht! I love how each trigger's-pull, plays this single key liquid instrument, each spray reverberates like a twin stack of speakers, singing, pounding, moving me, killing every germ in its path, freeing me from tragedy, for a moment, until I hear the sound of bare feet barreling toward me. Something is wrong! At 4AM this morning, Cameron is awoken from a detoxing restless sleep. He cannot stand to the D.T.s of three decades of drinking. And, the past three days without beer have been a cataclysmic interruption. His body lets him know like an angry volcano, trapping him on a mat in the mission, prompting paramedic intervention, waking the seventy five men next to him. And, as Cameron exits on a stretcher, I enter my own world, of water falls and paradise lagoons, each spray projecting much needed imagery in place of traumatic graveyard tragedies teaching lessons learned the hardest ways— that even in the sanctuary of a rescue mission no one but he can choose to save him from himself. And all I want to do is help, so I spray again, and I pray again, I spray again, and I pray again, I spray and I pray... for one last time this hourly night shift with no health benefits except this bottle of “safety,” which is all the more why I pray, and why I love the sound (it makes): whffffffffwht, like a light rain, wfffwht, wfffwht, like fireworks burst, whhffffwhhh, like falling from my knees into the arms of angels.
2.
Not Yours Truly Dear human, From birth it took you nearly a year to learn to walk, but within hours from exiting the womb I could run! When I stood for the first time, my mother kicked me over. I stood again, on my new born legs, and then she kicked me down again, and again, until I learned to move in this (our) habitat inhabited with predators... like you, who will prey on anything to survive, regardless of its size; Born six feet long, now I stretch to eighteen feet tall; weighing four thousand pounds, clothed with gold and black patches, (beyond merely eye-catching). I emit my body heat, through these (intricate) spots. I can swat bugs off my head using only my eighteen inch blue tongue, with which I grab past thorns at Acacia leaves while grazing at home in the savanna. And, I can sleep while standing, atop the continent of Africa. Yes, (like you) we giraffes come from somewhere. But you people take your pictures, and file us in zoos, dissecting our dead to find parts you can use... Is that all you think I am? Just a resource? Some thing of Yours? This is not instinctive but how you choose to be, how you treat all species, all too often...your own, calling people, "human resources." using them as tools in (the) pursuit of more...resources... But I am no guest in Your home. WE are BOTH visitors here, sharing this experience on a globe, sealed in by ozone, with polar ice caps, both of which are melting like pop-sickles in your (burning) haphazard stewardship. The glaciers drip, the rivers drain, the soil dries, the forests fry, and species die, while beneath electric lights you humans waste away inside the coffin-homes you think keep you safe, lock and key from your mistakes. Who are you kidding? (Are you insane?) If you are the ones created in the image of God, then God, who’ll work on a cure? After so much evolution, you humans digress failing to make the natural selections. If you take us (giraffes) away, the Acacia ants leave, and the elephants destroy the Acacia trees. If you take us (giraffes) away, the ticks lose their host, and Tick-birds struggle to find a food source. You are killing our planet. But why would you want to do that? It's so nice here! And though my brain may only carry half the weight of yours, my heart is two feet long and far stronger than the excuse for a muscle caged behind your ribs, its size ironically the same as your fist. Try using your head... ...and your ears... to hear the whispers and cries of Earth's body language. We are singing one song in the deepest muddy water blues, that if you listen, you will find written in your skin: The verse tells the tragedy of being consumed. The bridge chants the comedy that "wild life continues." And the chorus sings a fairy tale of being renewed... Every creature plays its part, sending its message. And this has been just one of mine. Sincerely signed, Not yours, truly, Giraffe
3.
Tell me, how was your day? How was your day? Was it marvelous? Was it decent? Was it “meh?” Was it depressing or refreshing? was it filled with boredom or trepidation or elation? Tell me, how was your day? I mean it when I ask you, that’s why I’m asking you. It’s not just some phrase or a sound, some “tsss” or “wfffh” It has meaning, like the story you are living does to me. Tell me, how was your day? What was it like? Was it sunrays or moonbeams? Was it dark clouds or cotton candy stars? Did it serve to you a foreclosure notice on the door you had not realized was the lid of a present not a promise to be taken for granted? Did it share with you its flowers? Did it buy you flowers? Did it leave a love letter under your windshield wiper for the tenth time? Did it stalk you, maybe creep you out a little? Okay, a lot? How was your day? Did it hold your five year old hand and walk you across the busy streets? Did it lovingly brush its hand on your cheek? Did it feed you a bountiful buffet of exotic fruits? Tell me about the mangos? (I want to know about the mangos!) Or did it only share with you how deprivation feels as even your stomach acid is at your throat, screaming out of loneliness? Did it serve you chocolate? Did you share some with the stomach acid? No, really, how was your day? Was it a blanket of friends, their smiles like fireworks, like glass cylinder light bright bulbs coloring today pumpkin orange or lemon merengue school bus yellow or lip stick lounge dress red or the purple of nursing home curtains (or at least an old lady’s church hat)? Or was it ceiling and walls, only the windowless nothing of certain ceiling and cubicle walls? Did you awake on satin and feathers to touch? Or did you awake on concrete, drenched in urine, maybe not your own? Did you wake alone, the worst way you could have asked for this morning, on a used mattress, impacted by the gravity that your body represents? Don’t just tell me about the monotonous things you did. At least tell me how monotonous they were with passion! I want to know about your day! And if you are the only person I ask this question to and I get some sort of knee jerk response, I might be likely to think, “Well, that’s lame. I’m not going to be asking that for a while.” No, tell me, how was your day? Did you fall in love? Did you fall out? Hit the ground, not running? Running? Did you go for a jog today? Did you pray? Did you worship? Did you masturbate? Do you plan to? Did you curse? Were you cursed at? How did it feel? Did you create something? Did someone use you? Did you lay down? Do you anticipate being used before the day is over? What would it take for you to say no to them and yes to yourself? Did you stand? Did anyone tell you that you can? Did anyone offer to help? Hold? Listen? Love? Did you hear, “I love you?” Who said it? How many times? “I love you.” “I hate you.” “I’m sorry.” “Forgive me.” “I love you.” “I love you.” Who did you tell? Who asked you about your day? No, really, when I ask I want to know. I mean, what if my day had been lifeless and the only life that I got was the life that you shared with me? Share with me your life! Tell me how was your day? How do you want it to finish? To go on forever? Or never more? If your last glimpse tonight is a 12:34 AM alarm clock glowing, or open starlit sky, or into your lover’s eyes then let your heart and mind collaborate to whisper a silent thank you, “Thank you God,” gratitude. If your last goodnight is blurry— water upon tear stains or as lonely as it began— only a white and blue Facebook message box… if it is to me you are typing, know that I’d like to ask, to share, to know, How was your day? Ask me back. (And) maybe I’ll be there too, no longer alone, to say, “Thank you for asking, I had a great day! And you made it so.”
4.
Reconciling my apartment complex I remember the words of Mr. Rodgers. As children, we listened to this sweater swapping, shoe changing old friend, extend his unconditional invitation on the television: "Won't you be my neighbor?" And this recent memory sank into an open wound as I laughed at the irony of The Golden rule my life: It is written, "Love your neighbor as yourself." But, I forget it. I fear my neighbors as I fear to share myself. My ideas to initiate "friendly" communication with these familiar strangers are paralyzed by pessimism, as I think through countless things that they might be thinking; but I cannot know what they are thinking unless I meet them, and they tell me. And thus far, I know little more than what I've seen between their front doors and the street. Like Mr. Across-the-way; He constantly calls for taxis when all he'd have to do is ask me for a lift, but I have been there, wondering how to ask for help from those to whom I have offered so little of myself. And better yet, why doesn't Mr. Across-the-way call Mr. Downstairs to take him places? Since he drives a taxi for a living, to keep his family living here, so near I hear their every conversation coming through the ventilation, though we don't exchange much face to face. We are so closely disconnected. Ironically, on Fridays my roommates order pizza delivery from strangers, when that’s how our neighbor, Mr. Next-door, earns his wages to rent the space just inside the next door, with his wife, new born boy, and little girl. We are so closely disconnected. And all these close missed connections fail to set the broken bones in our closeted relational skeletons, whose divides require stitching [of thread] that doesn't have to come from our family ties, but may be (found) laced into our neighbors' shoes— those I rarely imagine standing in, though I daily retrace their steps. We walk on top of the same concrete block sidewalks, park our bikes and cars in the same lots and navigate around the same puddles, bus routes, traffic signals, ugly carpet, and plumbing; we just don't consider each other "close." Though, we reside only meters away from the places our neighbors lay (down) to sleep, and awake to take their first breath in the morning. I'm sure if I thought more about it, I'd realize how vulnerable I am behind my walls, inside my boxed in shelter place, when I’m lounging and vegging, showering and eye-brow tweezing, grunting, (and) farting, praying, (and) dancing: actions I do naturally alone, just not so well in front of others. I’m not always publicizing my private life, just wishing I weren't the only one in it. Sometimes I need help, community, connection, an opportunity to be mutually woven into another’s consideration. And I wonder, why not Mr. and Mrs. Next-door? Why not them? Why instead do I commute all across this city to talk honestly with a friend? when inside I long to share with someone near, who knows and understands what I go through first hand. I hate residing in hiding, in fear of exposure, presuming to know what everyone (around me) is thinking (about me). But my apartment space is vacant, (though) surrounded by acquaintances. I hate knowing them as strangers! But, I’d love to become friends. And my personal space is too often vacant, surrounded by acquaintances. I am through with knowing strangers! Won't you be my neighbor? Copyright © 2012, Garret William Potter.
5.
A boat for my heart I built a boat for my heart; tried to send it to myself in the mail, but the post office closed when the storms came and I had to carry it in my palms— my heart, my vulnerable. God build a boat for my heart, entrusted men to bring it to me, in due time, but the men got all the directions mixed up and varied-- confused assembly, confusing themselves; I only got pieces, that might make a boat, that might be from God, but might not. I built a boat for your heart, but you kept it inside, wouldn’t come let it out, at the dock, didn’t trust, wouldn’t chance; so I rowed it alone, carrying nothing but my solitude— me and the oars, o’er and o’er. But my heart build a boat for itself out of all the charred remains, found them strewn about my sensory memory, plucked them out of its sides and feet and put them together to make new moments. In the new moments, my heart remembers how it never was but ought to have been. It is a beautiful heart-boat floating, sailing on the seas; the wave-waters shimmer, the moon is out, it is rocking me to sleep. Copyright © 2012, Garret William Potter.
6.
Prepare to bloom The wheels turned beneath me, on my Autumn night commute. But inside, they were twirling like leaves. I was falling into memories of romance in past seasons. These thoughts spun out of control. I had to get out, outside of my head, so I used my eyes, and looking around, maybe for the first time that entire commute, I noticed something something beautiful was happening in the park right next to me: In yellow park lantern glow, leaves were cascading like snowflakes. So I stopped. I jettisoned my vehicle. I ran. And, I dove, plunging myself into a free pile of leaves. This momentary gift allowed trapped laughter to escape. And for a moment, I heard nothing until only the swaying whisper-breeze of an ancient orator exhaled for me its wisdom (and I listened): “The trees don't hold on always. In Autumn, they let their colors fall. Naked, they stand exposed, in darkness and cold, while beneath, they undergo root work, reaching deep for warmth. They breathe in and stretch out, exhale and exile, and prepare during Winter, to bloom in Spring.” “But, you don't understand!” I scream in reply, “To think of it, I've seen twenty-five of these Springs and doubt there's anything like that for me.” “Just 'cause trees can make it naked, doesn't mean I can; just 'cause their limbs can bare it barren, doesn't mean mine can; and just 'cause their roots stretch out and reach deep in cold harsh seasons, how am I to prepare to love if everyone keeps leaving?” “I have tried most everything: squashed ripening friendships moving too close unexpected, deprived seeds of relationship in endless deliberation, and I held on to too many maybes 'till they drained life from my limbs, forcing me to surrender, to fall. Like the laden crowns of the grandfather oaks where I sat that night exhausted and I prayed, "God, I need something. And if You dare not touch me, then let the arms of these trees glitter their golden confetti to wrap me in a patchwork, sewn by breath, to nurture me out of paralysis, so maybe before this (twenty-sixth) Spring comes, I can begin to imagine that something might be coming, That, if the trees can make it naked, then maybe, so can I! If their limbs can bare it barren, then why can’t mine! and if their roots stretch out and reach deep in cold harsh seasons… No matter what Winter takes I will grow underneath. I’ll breathe in, and stretch out, exhale and exile, and prepare for love to bloom when this my Winter finally turns to Spring. Copyright © 2012, Garret William Potter.
7.
I want to quote Lauryn Hill I want to quote Lauryn Hill I want to quote Lauryn Hill and I wanna play George Clooney's part (in the movie). I want to die like Martin Luther King. I want to fear no man. I want to come back like Lazarus. I am looking for meaning. I'm looking to make it through this life without having to cope. I'm looking for blamelessness. I want to go to sleep at least once in my life with clean hands. Not these two (bloody ones). I want to quote Lauryn Hill. I want to quote Lauryn Hill. And I wanna be the hero Clooney plays, in Michael Clayton, Syriana, or Batman, (I would like to be) a secret change agent, like Christian Bale, Liam Nieson, or Morgan Freeman. I want to laugh like Robin Williams, Abbot, Costello, Charley Chaplin. I wanna know "Who's on first..." I'd like to be the clown who confounds people of power. I want to be a lyrical projectile from the mouth of Bob Marley; loving revolution on his lips, the day after being shot as a message to stop. I want to quote Lauryn Hill. I want to quote Lauryn Hill, then sleep at night. I want to have sex that’s a byproduct of the closeness that’s a byproduct of the devotion (shared) between me and one other— to be naked and not ashamed. Its not good that we're ashamed. Its not good that we're alone. curling up in the dark. I want to keep in balance. (I want) to live sober; (I want) to eat healthy. I want to live simply. I want to grow (my own) blueberries and harvest chamomile flowers for tea. I would like to do yoga or at least some push-ups (now and again). In the park, I dream of swinging all the way around the pull-up bar, like Olympians and gymnasts, like Kevin Bacon in Footloose, I want to dance and let loose (like Kevin Bacon), I want to ride a bicycle. to and through the (Columbia River) Gorge and hike Eagle Creek past every water fall and majestic old growth tree. I want to sleep next to a camp fire all quiet night. to camp by the Ocean and some day make love over sand (with a clean conscious). I want to know purity. I want to sleep in love and wake conscious (prayerfully) with true loving on my mind and the peace that keeps it humble. I want to father children. Not just create them, but father them. I want to raise a son who respects daughters, and a daughter who's never adultered. I want to protect something pure. And I want to be forgiven. 'Cause if you ask some I am wrong; 'cause if you ask her I'm at fault. (But, when is it ever too late for redemption?) And I want to have integrity, so that when I quote Lauryn Hill, I am talking not only about things that I respect, but a person I can be. I want to quote Lauryn Hill, and read me. Copyright © 2012, Garret William Potter.
8.
Intimacy period. When I reach my end, short on time and breathe only enough strength to utter one final phrase, I want to know it before I have to. I only wanted intimacy. Sounds good. (that's) Nine syllables, nineteen letters, three spaces, one period. No. (Backspace). Not yet. Around one year of age, I first learned to speak, Brain signaled nervous system, stimulating heart to send oxygen filled blood through lungs, to exhale carbon dioxide past vocal chords creating volume to travel through nasal passages and mouth, maneuvered by jaw, lips, tongue, and cheeks to enunciate sounds with meaning-- Words! And when I murmured that first noun, "Ma-ma," —a word almost synonymous with intimacy— it served as a means to most any necessary end; Almost but not quite enough, so I like you was forced to acquire more of these words so vitally narrowing the scope of my emotions into messages like "Up!" "Carry me!" or "Hold me!" Hold me— that one is two syllables, six letters, one space, one exclamation requiring use of breath up the back roof of mouth, opened wide, then lowered down into rounded cheeks and diaphragm exhalation, quick touch of tongue to roof then gums above front teeth, (with a) momentary pause… closing mouth, sealing lips, exhaling air past vocal chords to exit the nose at first before thrusting open lips in forward motion, then quickly transferring friction to upper throat and back roof of mouth, lowering bottom teeth all to utter: "H o l d - M e !" So complex, and yet so much easier to understand than all my wordless cries before. I cried for intimacy. Each of us cries differently: releasing tears, mucus, saliva, and sound in vocal, facial, and bodily eruption-- a response to a mind overloaded. The first time I felt pain, I cried; sensed hunger, I cried; felt lonely, I cried. Someone told me "no" and I understood what that meant; I cried. Someone called me stupid, and their expression was understood as a question of my intellect and esteem; I cried. My brother kung-fu kicked me in the still forming testicles, I cried. A girl (named)/Jennifer expressed her lack of romantic sentiments toward me; I cried. I took the leap from all that I knew into the cloud of unknowing to express faith in God, I cried; I saw Oregon (in the Spring time, with my own eyes); I cried. My friend Greg died; I cried. I studied ancient religious history and told God I could no longer believe and practice the common form(s) of religion; I cried. I had sex for the first time, with one person, uncertain if in love, yet sharing innumerable expressions of intimacy; I cried. I admitted and apologized for my lack of chivalry; I cried. (Sometimes) I choose to pray, in the name of a God whose story of sacrificial love I do not know existed in history; and I cry. And it is possible that here, now, recounting these overwhelming moments, I might cry. I cry for intimacy. I cry without it. I cry overwhelmed in it. Intimacy is my cry. But if I only get to tell you one final phrase it will not be (that) I only wanted intimacy. I want intimacy. No. I have intimacy. No. Love is what I have. No. Love is what I need. No. Here…I…am. Love me. No. I... love... you. {exhale ‘whew’} There {inhale ‘hhuh’}, that's three syllables, eight letters, two spaces, and all I could ever need to tell you, period. Copyright © 2012, Garret William Potter.

about

These poems have been conceived, written, recorded, and edited step by step over the past five years. I am grateful to share them with you today. Enjoy.

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released October 7, 2013

This audio album was produced, recorded and mixed by "Mighty" Mike McGee on January 30, 2013 in Bellingham, Washington. www.mikemcgee.net

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Garret Potter Ann Arbor, Michigan

Garret Potter has come from nine states and Japan to find himself a familiar name in the international Poetry Slam community. He is cursed with consideration which he has learned to turn into gifts: heart-pounding, mind-delving inquiries and observations on vulnerability, community, and sustainability—poems. He likes moments with new people, movies, and food, old friends, books, bikes, and forests ... more

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