Brad Shurmantine lives in Napa, Ca. He spends time writing, reading, tending three gardens (sand, water, vegetable), keeping bees, taking care of chickens and cats, and working on that husband thing. His fiction and personal essays have appeared in Pettigru Review, Potato Soup Journal, Every Day Fiction, Avalon Literary Review, Adelaide Magazine, and Nightingale & Sparrow. His poetry has been published in Oddball Magazine, Jam and Sand, Ariel Chart, and Mom Egg. He backpacks in the Sierras and travels when he can, and has a serious passion for George Eliot.
It’s true I was the best reader in class, the one the nuns always called on when they wanted to crank through a text. That skill alone made the whole school thing joyful, propelled my stunning success on standardized tests. I loved those damn tests: the serious pageantry of passing out fresh pencils, breaking the cellophane, smelling the fresh cool booklets. Time Start/Time Stop. The questions that had real answers. I was good at that shit, really good, 99th percentile good. Getting those scores each year confirmed who I knew I was: smarter, better than everyone else, everyone. I walked among my classmates like a young prince, could not seriously share their vague pleasures, take much interest in their pedestrian achievements, a one-child parade down a blind alley. Of course, none of those kids liked me. I thought it was envy, but they just didn’t like me. Smart kids.
If there’s such a thing I’m not it, not ever. It’s fair, it’s right: she’s so much out there, available, connecting, reacting, present. And I’m so often stuck in a man-cave, glued to my screen: those tiresome judgements, accusations. I watch them too, watch over them. I love them, sure, I provided-- would die for them, goes without saying. But who is always there, right there, hanging on every word-- lavishing praise, encouragement-- who thinks of them always, not just in waves of memory, waves of wonder, waves of regret? Favorite parent, that’s who.
I Was Right
On my knees in moist dirt, planting Hot Lips salvia, I once again conclude I was right about this or that struggle, years ago, in this or that school, battles I always lost. The bees will love these little firecracker flowers so close to home; they’ll soften and enliven the gray rocks, the white granite bowl and ishidoro I will settle amongst them. I’m breaking a lot of rules, building my tsukubai, it’s what I do: for starters, no teahouse. Maybe even causing trouble for my bees, inviting robbers, but it feels right to me-- in my mind I hear the steady stream falling into the small pool, gently roiling the clear water, lightly splashing the nearby foliage. I imagine all those colleagues who prevailed, moving through their days, secure in what they do, those hot issues that caused me such pain settled and forgotten.
We are especially interested in hearing new voices: gay, black, multiracial, transgender, female, queer, overlooked, ignored, trampled down by patriarchal boots, dismissed through time. We listen for those voices.
I too want to hear new voices, and every time a poem or story wiggles free inside me I think I hear something fresh and new, but it’s just the old white voice I can’t shake, my voice, the one that’s bounced around inside the walls of my head forever, or since I can remember. That voice, that Brad voice, continually whispering you’re something special, you’re no good. That angry voice, that funny voice. This voice.
I can’t blame you for tuning it out. Often I wish I could. But I’m stuck with it. Now I keep talking to you and you keep not hearing, or, worse, hearing it as so much boring static, routine and predictable, not worth a reader’s time. And I get it: this is exactly how the ones you’re listening for have always felt. Ignored. Now I get to feel it. Serves you right. I can’t say you’re wrong.
Only, I hear the dog crunching her morning kibbles, lapping up water with her big friendly tongue, out in the hallway, and I think my voice can’t be worse than that. God loves the sound of a dog eating. God loves my voice too.
Bubbles & Bass
Not cast out, not even sent away, left on my own but each step looking backward, not seeing where I was going, not caring. Everything beautiful was back there. Now I look back further and further for that beauty. Don’t tell me I’m young at heart. That’s stupid shit. Means nothing. Tall and slim with long brown hair bound up in scarves, lovely breasts barely contained in silken cups, you dance right beside me, not even seeing me, however I try to catch your eye. You know in your precious heart youth is everything.