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A bottle of safety

from Context by Garret Potter

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Recorded by Mike McGee. Produced by Mike McGee and Garret Potter
Thank you.


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...

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...

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.


from Context, released October 7, 2013


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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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