The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2016

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JUL-AUG 2016 Issue



Independence Day


on the 4th of July at almost midnight.  when the official fireworks are long over.  and only a stray rocket goes off from time to time from the stoops of the locals.  who have been here for generations.  so fuck off with your yuppie whining.  this is Americaget over it.  and the fat kid comes out from the brownstone across the street with at least three if not four generations living in it.  I’m never quite sure because I can’t tell the grandmother and the great-grandmother apart. I think they are two different people but they wear identical Nonna Smocks.  and wave to my daughter and tell me how pretty she is.  and I don’t know if Frank Sr. is Anthony Sr.’s dad or his brother.  and the fat kid is named Anthony too.  like the mentally challenged guy who must be Anthony Jr.’s cousin, or maybe his uncle is named Frank or Frankie, but he doesn’t let me call him Frankie even though my daughter can call him that.  when he waits for the bus to pick him up out front every afternoon.  and says bye mommy and tell daddy I love him before he gets on with the other fifty-some-year-olds going to work somewhere downtown.  the fat kid Anthony comes out of the house.  with a baseball bat. and I think for a second that he’s going to walk right over to me and beat me with it.  for coming here.  with my wife and daughter.  and locking our bikes to the fence.  and sitting on our stoop with our popsicles.  and our wine. in the evening.  in other words taking over.  but he can’t see me sitting there.  I realize.  and he goes into the middle of the street.  with his baseball bat.  because this is Brooklyn.  and even though he has room to swing it in front of his grandmother or great grandmother’s house.  the place to swing a bat for crissakes is right in the middle of the goddamn street.  and swing it he does.  after holding it high over his back shoulder and bouncing a little in his stance.  he swings big.  over and over again.  and then just before he goes in.  which must be midnight by now.  and no longer the 4th of July.  but simply the 5th.  the day after the day we blow up Chinese rockets and look at Chinese lights in the sky.  to celebrate how free we are.  the fat kid.  Anthony.  takes his final swing.  but not before pointing with his bat.  à la Babe Ruth.  or maybe someone else he is more familiar with.  a current Yankee.  or Met.  but not a Brooklyn Dodger.  who Jerry the Ears from down the street says single-handedly ruined baseball by going to Los Angeles and baseball, hell the world, ain't been the same since.  Anthony points his bat up to the centerfield bleachers and holds it there a second.  looking right into the pitcher’s eyes and then he pulls the bat back over his shoulder.  And swings.  his biggest swing yet. 

and I couldn’t see it from where I was sitting.  but the ball must have gone right where he pointed.  because Anthony dropped his bat with a clang in the otherwise silent street.  and raised his arms and circled the bases in triumph.  as I sat there and watched.  the only real spectator to his miraculous homerun.  and I wanted to get up and cheer. the return of baseball to Brooklyn.  finally after almost 60 years. but I just sat there.  quiet as an intruder.  a true brooklynite would have yelled and whooped.  or at least told Anthony to keep it the fuck quiet.  but I just sat there.  in my expensive seat.  silently rooting. until Anthony picked up his bat.  looked up and down the street and right past me.  and then went back in to his house.  a hero among us all.









watch over me


that on the same day the news broke
that Big Tex the giant cowboy
who stood over the Texas State Fair
since 1952 and welcomed visitors
with his big Texas Howdy Folks
was engulfed in flames and perished in those flames
while thousands of fairgoers and tourists
stood watching in horror in the parking lot
on their way into the fair  
as he melted and disappeared
almost entirely behind the black clouds and the flames
his giant smile and big open hands
the only parts of him visible while he burned
until he was nothing but that smile and those hands
and the steel skeleton once invisible
under his fiberglass skin and clothes
a skeleton originally made for
a giant Santa Claus one article said
but was then appropriated for Big Tex
and which had been Big Tex's skeleton ever since

my wife emailed me a help wanted ad
written by a young woman asking for someone to sit beside her
and watch over her while she slept
and asking that that someone be dressed in a little owl costume
or for slightly less pay at least stick a few feathers
to his or her forehead and sit beside her
while she went to sleep and finally slept
feeling safe and secure because she has always
taken great comfort in the idea that owls
are the natural watchmen of the night
and thinking that maybe the person
who would respond to her ad
would be an actor or have some experience in the theater
and would be able to work a shift from 11pm until 6 am
and only take short breaks to eat
and preferably with his or her owl head
turned away from her sleeping
and only after she had fallen asleep of course
because she did not want to be disturbed
by the fact of the owl's eating
(this is no joke the woman wrote
and all joke replies will be deleted)

that the fire that ended the life of Big Tex
began in the wiring of his voice box
and then spread through the wiring
throughout his giant body
and that the man whose voice
was the actual voice of Big Tex
who worked out of a building nearby
welcoming visitors and providing other important announcements
in the voice of Big Tex
and through the big Texas smile
fifty some feet above the fair
was in that building when Big Tex started burning
and thankfully was not making announcements
at the time of his burning but on his lunch break
so the fairgoers were spared the further macabre experience
of being welcomed to the State Fair in Tex's big cheery drawl
and being told matter-of-factly where to eat or park
by the smiling mouth of a cowboy
as he was swallowed by flames
in the same calm gentle voice as always
with no indication that flames were reducing him
to a charred skeleton   those outstretched palms  
a smile and ash

that on this day I read about this
and saw pictures and video of Big Tex
before during and after the flames
and saw pictures also of a little boy in his father's arms
wailing and looking up
at what could only be Big Tex melting away
and read that the little boy had talked of nothing else
but seeing the giant cowboy for the weeks
leading up to this day
only to step out of the car
and see Big Tex burning
and read also of the no-longer children
remembering that Big Tex
was their anchor in the crowds
entering or leaving the fair
some of them nearly fifty years ago
just after Big Tex first appeared there
reminiscing that they could never be lost because of him
because he was where they knew to go
if they ever got separated from their families

this is no joke
all joke replies will be deleted

that I may never know if the woman
who wanted an owl
to watch over her while she slept
able to sleep knowing that the owl
would be there watching over her
and knew that she wanted it so clearly
that she took out an ad to find this owl
or possibly combination of owls
to cover all shifts
to assure her that no hour of any night
of her falling asleep and sleeping
would go unwatched
ever found the right candidate
an out-of-work actor willing to dress as an owl
or affix a few feathers to his or her forehead
and watch her as she dreams

or if the man with the voice of Big Tex
now that the blackened remains of Big Tex
have been lowered onto a flatbed
and driven away in what more than one bystander
called a very solemn funeral procession
his oddly surviving and still-open palms
stretched up to the heavens as they took him away
has found other work for his huge friendly voice
while the state of Texas is restoring Big Tex
to be bigger and better than ever
or if he is lost without a giant cowboy
to mouth the words coming from him
and if he sometimes wanders around lost
in his hours and hours of days
muttering Howdy Folks to his wife and walls
and that maybe he should find other work
I heard a woman is looking for someone
to watch over her as she sleeps 
that doesn't sound so bad
he has watched over so many

that I'll never know the answers to these questions
and that I wouldn't even have these questions at all
if it hadn't been that the same day Big Tex burned
I learned about the woman
who wanted an owl to watch over her sleeping
and both became forever linked in my mind
even though the cowboy burned in Texas
and the woman advertised for a watching-over owl
in I believe Canada

does not lead me to any conclusions
about the frailty of what seems permanent
like giant cowboys or the need we all have
for someone to watch over us
whether it be that cowboy with his forever smile
or that actor dressed as an owl
sneaking bites of the muesli bar the woman left for him
to eat with his mouth turned away
only after she is fully asleep

or even to question our assumptions
about what we hold onto
and what we believe to be bigger
and stronger than we are

but perhaps it should
perhaps I should see answers
in the tears of the little boy
watching Big Tex burn
or in the assumed mutterings of the man
who was the voice of Big Tex
or in the actor in an owl suit
highlighting audition notices
while the watched-over woman sleeps

perhaps I should take something from this
other than the simple fact that this is not a joke
that Big Tex with his skeleton meant for Santa Claus
will be back next year  that future little boys
and little girls will meet under his smile and hands
that they will sleep well having finally seen him
knowing or at least believing that he is there and always will be

and perhaps if nothing else I should take great comfort
that most likely the woman who is having trouble sleeping
hasn't seen the pictures I saw
of Big Tex's undisturbed smile behind the flames
and that same smile never un-smiling
as his remains were driven away on the funeral flatbed

and that tonight as she lies down to sleep her owl is there
happy to have some paying work between gigs
and going over lines in his or her head
and that in the sleeping woman's mind
the Big Texes of this world never burn
and are never hauled away
as barely more than the skeletons
that were never even meant for them anyway
their intact smiles and hands open
for the stars to pour their wishes or meaning into

or so we can all hope
that this is no joke

or so at least I can hope
that all joke replies will be deleted








Denver Butson

Denver Butson’s latest collection of poetry is the sum of uncountable things (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015). Co-founder and Literary Director of BACAS (an international exchange of inventions and ideas, with residencies and gatherings in Southern Italy), he is a frequent collaborator with musicians, visual artists, actors, and filmmakers. He has lived in Brooklyn for nineteen years.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2016

All Issues