Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "If You Have Almost Nothing"

This poem is spillover from the January 2, 2018 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from Tom. It also fills the "Set Attainable Goals" square in my 1-31-18 card for the Valentines Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

"If You Have Almost Nothing"

The first time Dr. G took him
out on a day trip, Shiv was
a bundle of nerves.

Warden Lincoln had
approved the outing,
but Shiv still worried that
something would go wrong.

"Relax," Dr. G said. "This
is supposed to be fun."

"Yeah, I know," Shiv said.
"I just fuck up everything, and
when I fuck up this trip, it will
get you in trouble too."

"If you feel hungry, or
overloaded, or anything else
that you can't handle on your own,
then tell me before you lose your grip,"
Dr. G said. "I'll take care of it."

"But I'm no good at that,"
Shiv reminded him.

"All I ask is that you try. It's
important to set attainable goals."
Dr. G said. "Can you do that?"

"Okay, I'll try," Shiv said.

"Then come on," Dr. G said.
"Let's swing by Registration."

The teleporter had set them down
on a compass rose done in chalk paint
in the parking lot, and they could see
the registration booth from there.

Dr. G paid for both of them,
then led the way along a sidewalk
covered with more chalk art.

Close to the parking lot,
the pavement was solid with
pictures, but as they went along,
blank spaces began to appear.

"Would you like to do a square?"
a young man invited, holding out
a bucket of assorted chalk.

Shiv hesitated. Drawing on
pavement got him in trouble.

"Go ahead, if you like,"
Dr. G said, giving him
a gentle nudge between
the shoulderblades.

Hesitantly Shiv took
a few pieces and knelt.

With quick swipes of the chalk
he sketched out a green cactus
in a pink pot, with a single flower
of brighter pink on top of it.

"That's pretty," Dr. G said.
"You seem to like cacti."

"Yeah, I grew one like this
in Desert Dreams, only I don't
remember the name," Shiv said
as he stood up to return the chalk.

"That's okay, you might learn it
later on," Dr. G assured him.

They walked around a curve in
the sidewalk, flanked by trees, then
the Westmoreland Arts and Music Festival
spread out before them like a patchwork quilt.

Campgrounds dotted the area -- one with
a camper covered in graffiti, others with tents --
and in between, long stretches of parkland
full of people painting wonderful things.

In the sun, large canvases
and slabs of drywall stood
proudly on display.

Shiv clung to the shade,
where tents sheltered
smaller rectangles as
the artists worked.

Some of the big murals
had been completed by
teams of people, shown
by the jagged lettering
in different styles and
multiple signatures.

A community paint wall
made of four panels had
several children working on it.

"Look at all the different styles,"
Dr. G said. "Graffiti is a diverse genre."

"What's a genre?" Shiv said. "I only
ever heard it called vandalism before."

"A genre is a group of art that has
related features," Dr. G said. "Graffiti
is bold, expressive, and usually done
in spray paint. Then it also has styles,
subgroups of features within the genre."

"Like blockbusters have square letters
and wildstyle is more spiky?" Shiv said,
pointing to examples in the park.

"Yes, exactly," said Dr. G. "Now
vandalism, that's not about genre,
it's about permission. You can paint
anything as long as it's yours or you have
permission from the owner. Without it,
even the Mona Lisa would technically
be vandalism, and that's a classic."

"Huh," Shiv said, looking around.

It felt weird to see so much graffiti,
naked in the daylight where
everyone could watch it.

Shiv quivered, the skin
between his shoulderblades
crumpling itself with fear.
Sweat trickled down.

The place was full of people,
but it didn't feel crowded,
because it was so big.

He could still feel
them watching him.

As they came into
the function area, though,
Shiv found more things
to distract himself.

Stretchy red walls
framed something called
Oasis Bathhouse and Bodywork.

Across from that was a tent
oddly shaped like a starfish.

"What's that?" Shiv asked,
pointing at the strange thing.

Dr. G glanced at the map
he'd picked up at Registration.
"Purple Star Temple," he said.
"According to the schedule,
it holds sessions for prayer,
meditation, and other activities."

"That's a church?" Shiv said,
staring at it. "Don't look like one."

"It's not exactly a church, but it is
a place of worship," Dr. G said.
"Those come in all kinds."

Maybe so, but Shiv had never
seen anything like that before.

The next one looked like
a peak made out of kites in
red, yellow, blue, and purple.

"That's the Yoga Pavilion,"
Dr. G said as they passed it.
"It's for bendy exercises."

Then he pointed out
the Nest of Visions,
a wooden gazebo where
a fortuneteller read cards,
although it was empty now.

Cattails ringed the Secret Lake,
surrounded by little pavilions
where people sold sculptures.

Shiv rather liked the sunflowers,
but they were taller than he was and
he didn't have any place to put one,
even if he had money, which he did not.

The Center Stage had a weird awning
with starburst points on it, made from
more of that stretchy cloth in shades
of hot purple, pink, and yellow.

As they passed, Shiv could hear
a folk band singing an unfamiliar song.

"And wet rose she from the lake
And fast and fleet went she,
One half the form of a maiden fair
With a jet-black mare's body ..."

"The Witch of the Westmoreland,"
Dr. G said before Shiv could ask.
"The festival is named after that song,
so they play it over and over again --
half the performers here will cover it."

Shiv couldn't help but wonder
if that would adapt to jazz.

Ahead of them, the path
forked. "Which way do
we go now?" he asked.

"Let's see ... left goes to
the Art Gallery Market, and
straight ahead leads to
the food," Dr. G said.

Shiv was getting hungry,
but it wasn't lunchtime yet.
"Gallery?" he said, curious.

"There's a big tent with paintings
for sale by some of the major artists
at this event," Dr. G said. "Other tents
sell things by individual artists, along with
music, figurines, and other things."

"That sounds cool," Shiv said.
He'd enjoy looking, even if he
couldn't afford to buy anything.

So they turned left and followed
the path toward the market.

Just after the fork, they came
to a flowery hand-painted sign
that read Healing Arts.

A big pavilion sheltered
at least a dozen people doing
some kind of slow-motion exercise.

"That looks like Tai Ch'i," said Dr. G.
"It's good for improving your balance,
both physical and metaphysical."

Shiv snorted. "Looks ridiculous."

Beyond it stood a tipi whose sign
read Plant Spirit Sanctuary.

A wisp of sweet, grassy smoke
floated over the path, and Shiv sidled
out of the way. The last thing he needed
was to get dinged for smoking weed.

Suddenly a wave of goosebumps
raced over Shiv's skin, making
him rub his arms frantically.

"What is that?" he said
as unfamiliar energy
crawled over his skin
like a wave of ants.

"I don't know," Dr. G said,
frowning. "Can you help me
pin down a direction?"

Shiv turned in place,
trying to figure it out.

"That way," he said, pointing
to where a woman in a lacy white top
and a loud skirt sat on the ground,
leaning over a man in a blue t-shirt
who stretched out on his back.

She had one hand spread
over the man's chest, a large ring
gleaming in the sunlight, and the energy
rose and fell in time with her humming.

Dr. G clucked his tongue and then
said to her, "You're splashing
the whole area, miss."

"That's not her, it's me,"
murmured the man under
her hands. "We're trying
to get it locked down."

"Ah. I see," Dr. G said. He
bent over to lay a business card
beside the couple, then moved
to walk between them and Shiv.

"Huh," Shiv said. "Now I
can't feel it anymore."

"Most energy won't go through
one body and on into another,
especially unfocused energy,"
Dr. G said with a nod.

"You just made yourself
a meat shield?!" Shiv yelped.

"Well, my shields are fine,"
Dr. G said. "Yours, however ..."
He waffled a hand in the air.
"... could use some training."

"Thought you said you
weren't a soup," Shiv said.

"I'm not," Dr. G said mildly.
"I'm just an ordinary guy. Anyone
can take the SPOON classes for
mental clarity and other skills."

The more Dr. G claimed to be
'ordinary,' the more Shiv figured
he was blowing smoke out his ass.

The Gallery turned out to be
a big white tent with solid walls
set up to support the paintings.

Some of them were larger,
some of them were smaller,
and all of them looked like things
Shiv had seen when he was stoned.

"I love transcendental art," Dr. G said.
"Just look at all the genres represented!
"See, this cluster here is shamanic art --
the jaguar is a popular motif down in
South America. Next to those we have
some psychedelic paintings. Those
show altered states of consciousness."

"You like this stuff?" Shiv said.
"You uh, don't seem like the type."

"Oh, I took a whole course in
transcendental art and psychology
in college," Dr. G said. "It was amazing."

Shiv stared at him. He couldn't imagine
Dr. G getting high, and this kind of stuff --
like some of Shiv's favorite graffiti -- wasn't
half as much fun when you were sober.

"You're pulling my leg," Shiv said.

Dr. G shrugged. "Think what you want,
but I'm buying this one," he said, using
his smartphone to snap a picture of
a blue painting with three faces.

When they left the tent, Dr. G stopped
to talk with the gallery manager, where
he paid for the painting and arranged for
a runner to take it down to Registration
so he could pick it up on the way home.

Beyond the gallery, they found
vendors hawking everything from
hand-carved crystals to leatherwork.

One booth sold musical instruments,
and Shiv found himself dragging
his feet as they walked past it.

"See something you like?"
Dr. G said, waving at the booth.

"I don't know how to play
any of those," Shiv said,
eyeing the curve of a harp.

"That's okay, there are plenty of
other things to look at," Dr. G said.

They made their way back to the fork
and then onward toward the food.

They came to the Kid's Village,
which had a nature playground
with climbers, tunnels, and
a seesaw made of logs.

A woman sat on the ground
blowing bubbles that floated
away in the soft breeze.

When one drifted his way,
Shiv caught it with a wet pop,
then wiped his hand on his pants.

Under a pavilion, a woman in
a golden-brown dress was painting
designs on a child whose gender
Shiv couldn't begin to guess.

His steps slowed as he
watched the painting process.

"Would you like a turn?"
Dr. G asked. "I think you'd
look great with a little paint."

Shiv thought about that.

He adored colors, and
the artist's face had swirls
of pink, purple, and yellow
although she was painting
the child's face all in white.

If she had purple, then
she probably had blue too.

As a little boy, he had
wanted and wanted to get
his face painted, but he
never managed to be
good enough to earn it.

He was lucky if he could make it
ten minutes past the gate of a fair
without having a meltdown and
getting dragged to the car.

"I'd love to have her
paint me," Shiv said.
Then he remembered.
"I haven't got any money."

"My treat," Dr. G said.
"I budgeted for both of us."

So they sat down on one of
the rustic wooden benches
outside the booth and waited
for the woman to finish.

"Hi, I'm Trillium,"
the artist said when
Shiv stepped inside.
"What's your name?"

"Uh ... Shiv," he said,
startled. People didn't
usually want to know him.

"I'm happy to meet you,
Shiv," Trillium said in
a high sweet voice. "So,
what design would you like?"

"I dunno ... something swirly?"
he said. "I like cool colors."

Trillium showed him a binder
of colorful designs, and Shiv
chose one with swirls and stars.

When she went to apply the paint,
though, the first touch of the brush
made him flinch away from it.

Then he cringed again,
expecting them to yell at him.

"Hey, it's okay to be sensitive
to light touch," Trillium said.

"Not really," Shiv muttered.

"Yes, really. Lots of people
feel that way," Trillium insisted.
"If you want to try again, we can
switch to a different tool such as
a sponge or a less-sensitive part
of your body, like your forearm."

"Maybe both?" he said hopefully.

"Sure, we can do both," she said.
"Look through my stencils and pick one.
Pat-pat with a sponge and it's all done.
I can add highlights and lowlights in
other colors with a brush if you want."

Shiv chose a stencil similar to
the freehand pattern he picked earlier.

Trillium closed her big palette case
and showed him a few wide jars.
He picked out the Sea Blue for
the main color, then Sparkle White
for highlights and Royal Blue for
lowlights if they got that far.

As promised, all it took was
two quick dabs with a big sponge
and the base color was set.

"I can go over the stars with
Sparkle White using a small sponge
if you like," Trillium offered, and
Shiv nodded eagerly.

With that done, she lifted
the stencil to show blue swirls
and stars in blue pearled with white.

"Cool," Shiv whispered.

"Want to try the brush again?"
Trillium asked, showing it to him.

"Yeah," he said. "I think
my arm is less ticklish."

And less risky to let her touch,
but he wouldn't say that out loud.

"Since we already have Sparkle White
on the stars, let's put Royal Blue on
some of the swirls," Trillium said.

"Okay," Shiv agreed.

A few quick strokes of the brush
and the painting was done.

"Ta da!" said Trillium.
"What do you think?"

"It's beautiful," he said,
staring at the lines that
swept across his skin.
"Thanks for painting me."

"Another happy customer!"
Trillium said with a grin.

Then Shiv's stomach growled.

"Time to go find some lunch,"
Dr. G declared, and steered
Shiv toward the food booths.

"What do they have?" Shiv asked.
He could smell food, but he
wasn't sure what kind.

"Let's see, this looks like
a pastry booth, and there's
the Vegan Vegetarian Food --"

"That's not food!" Shiv scoffed.

"What about the Pastafarians?"
Dr. G said, pointing to another tent.
"They always lay out a good spread,
it's an important part of their religion."

"I'm not listening to a sermon,"
Shiv said, shaking his head.
"I ain't that fuckin' hungry!"

"We don't read any liturgy at people,"
said a man wearing a colander on
his head. "The food is the sermon."

Whatever it was smelled delicious.

Shiv peeked inside the tent and saw
a buffet laid out with several types of pasta,
different sauces, raw meat and vegetables
that could be quick-cooked in the skillets.
Another table held baskets of garlic bread,
and in back, one had fruit and desserts.

"Can you afford to feed both of us?"
he asked, eyeing the food with longing.

"Yes, but I won't have to," Dr. G said,
pointing to a sign. "It's all free,
supported by donations."

"His Noodly Goodness just wants
everyone to eat," said their host.

"Whatever," Shiv said as he
hustled over to the buffet.

He shoveled noodles onto
his plate, poured on alfredo sauce,
and pointed out shrimp and peas
to be cooked in the skillet.

Then he grabbed some garlic bread,
a whole bunch of white grapes, and
as many strawberries as would fit.

"All right, that's a good start,"
Dr. G said. "Let's get a table, and
we can come back for dessert later."

So they found a picnic table, and
Shiv applied himself to the food.

It tasted as good as it smelled,
the noodles tender and the shrimp
a salty contrast to the creamy sauce.

The bread was crunchy and pungent,
while the fruit was juicy and sweet.

When they finally checked the desserts,
they found mounds of Italian cookies,
some plain and others covered with
chocolate, chopped nuts, or sprinkles.

Shiv scarfed down half a dozen
of the things before even he was
too stuffed to eat another bite.

He gave a resounding belch.

"Bless you!" the host said
with a cheerful grin.

Shiv couldn't even find it
in himself to insult the dude
like he usually did whenever
anyone said something religious.

After eating, they doubled back
along the way they had come.

Something tickled at Shiv's nose,
and he followed it to a nearby booth
where an herbalist was working.

She seemed to be blending
powders in a small bowl, with
scarves and sparkles of light
following her tattooed arms as
she moved through the steps.

It looked almost like dancing.

Another bowl gave off curls of
fragrant smoke, a pile of crumbles
smouldering over charcoal. That's
where the smell was coming from.

Shiv definitely couldn't have incense in
prison -- it was only allowed in the chapel
for religious purposes -- but he stood where
the wind would blow the smoke over him
and enjoyed the spicy, herbal scent.

"Inspiration," Dr. G said, reading from
a little card propped beside the bowl.
"It's mostly frankincense, ginger, and
sandalwood with a little myrrh."

"I like it better than church incense,"
Shiv said. "It smells ... greener."

"That might be the sweetgrass
or the yarrow," Dr. G said. "Here,
take a card, you might want it later."
He picked up one from the display
and handed it to Shiv, who
tucked it into a pocket.

Before long, they came to
the stretch of people painting
graffiti on slabs of drywall.

"I'll buy you a panel, if
you want one of your own,"
Dr. G offered. "We don't have
enough time for you do to a piece,
but you could throw up your name."

Shiv shifted his weight from one foot
to the other. He wanted to make his mark,
leave a little something of himself before
he died, but he just couldn't imagine
doing graffiti right out in public.

This wasn't like hitting a trainyard
where the only people around were
other gang members, a few hobos, and
rail workers keeping an eye on safety.

"Maybe some other time," he hedged.

"Okay," Dr. G said easily. "I know
not every artist likes an audience."

Oh, Shiv liked an audience all right ...
just not while he was working.

He had gotten used to drawing
with Dr. G, though, so maybe he
wasn't as paranoid as he used to be.

Shiv couldn't help drifting toward
one young man with shaggy brown hair
and a faded shirt of rainbow plaid, who
was doing some sort of demonstration.

It seemed to involve painting spacescapes
on canvas, but with several people
working together on each one.

"Come on, join the fun," he said.
"I'm Shanti. You look like guys
who aim to make a difference."

Shiv laughed. "You mean with
graffiti?" he said. "Get real."

"Graffiti has more chance
of meaning something or
changing stuff than anything
indoors," Shanti replied.

"Oh yeah?" Shiv said,
leaning closer. "Like what?"

"Graffiti has been used
to start revolutions and stop wars,"
Shanti said. "It's the voice of people
who generally aren't listened to."

"Guess I can't argue with
that one," Shiv admitted.

"Graffiti is one of those few tools
you have if you have almost nothing,"
Shanti said. "Even if you don't come up
with a picture to cure world poverty,
you can still make somebody smile
while they're having a piss."

That made Shiv snicker again,
and even Dr. G was grinning.

Shiv's graffiti was usually
rougher and ruder than this,
but he could see the appeal of
something pretty or funny, too.

"What happens to the paintings,
after they're done?" Shiv asked.

"They go into the charity auction,
and the money gets distributed
to worthy causes," Shanti said.

"Like the Pastafarian buffet?"
Shiv said, fondly remembering it.

"Some goes there, some goes
to Ragabonds to help people who
need clothes, and some goes to
other places," Shanti said.

He pointed to a nearby booth
that held a riot of clothing and
little round changing rooms
made out of hanging curtains.

"That's a wonderful idea," Dr. G said.
"Shiv, why don't you join in? This is
faster and easier than a panel."

"Yeah, maybe," Shiv said,
and Shanti passed him a can.

"What about you?" Shanti said
when Dr. G didn't step up.

"Oh, I can't paint," Dr. G. said
with a shake of his head.
"I'm just here to watch."

The artist lifted his hands,
and the audience roared in chorus,

"... and that voice will be silenced,"
the artist said with a firm nod.
He handed Dr. G a can.

"We're going to make
a spacescape with rocks
and moons," Shanti said as
he set out a white canvas.

With a few swipes of brown,
a planetary foreground began
to take shape below the sky.

"Let's see, seven volunteers,
so we'll make four moons
and four rocks," Shanti said.

He put down jar lids for the moons
and cardboard stencils where the rocks
would go. Then he showed each person
how to color their individual piece.

Shiv wound up with the biggest moon
in the middle of the design, possibly
because he was an actual artist.

Dr. G had a smaller moon nearby,
and the other two went off the edges.

Shanti explained how to spray on
layers of different paint, then lift off
some of it with crumpled newspaper.

They were left with whitish moons
marbled in pink and orange tones.

Below that curved a brownish-yellow line
of horizon. The rocks were made by using
handfuls of paper to swirl the paint around.

"Okay, time to make the spacescape,"
Shanti said. He put the covers back in place
to protect the moons and rocks. Next he
laid down a black background, and finally
misted it with several other colors.

Shanti also let everyone who wanted a turn
make stars by dipping a toothbrush into
white paint and flecking it around.

"This is fun," Dr. G said.

"See, everyone can paint,"
Shanti encouraged. "Who wants
to learn how to make some starbursts?"

Shiv and Dr. G both raised their hands,
along with one of the girls in the audience.

It turned out there were two ways --
one using a stencil with a slit cut in it, and
the other bouncing paint along a palette knife.

Finally, Shanti used twists of paper
to create a rocky outcropping and
three tiny astronauts gazing up
at the sky full of moons and stars.

"Wow," Shiv whispered.
"That looks really good."

"That's what teamwork
can do," Shanti said. "I'm
glad you enjoyed making it.
Thank you all for contributing
to the charity auction."

"You're welcome," Dr. G said,
and Shiv mumbled, "Welcome,"
because it was expected.

Then they moved on, ambling
along the wide, meandering path.

They came to the Festival Shop
and Shiv automatically looked for
a place to sit while Dr. G shopped.

"Don't you want to look for souvenirs?"
Dr. G said, turning back toward him.
"You haven't found anything all day."

"I don't have any money," Shiv said.
"Besides, souvenirs are for other people.
I'm never good enough to earn any.
I can just wait here for you."

Dr. G managed to look sad and
angry at the same time. "Souvenirs
are for everyone," he said. "Remember
that I budgeted for both of us."

"Yeah," Shiv said, shifting
from one foot to the other.

"Well, did you enjoy the trip?"
Dr. G said. "Would you like to have
something to remember it by?"

"It was nice," Shiv said. He
looked back over his shoulder
toward the festival site.

"Then why don't you come
see if there's anything you like?"
Dr. G said, waving at the tent
full of colorful souvenirs.

Hesitant, Shiv edged closer.
"Yeah, maybe ..." he said.

The Festival Shop held racks of
hats, plastic cups, reusable bags,
and t-shirts in all different styles.
Smaller items filled the tables.

Dr. G picked out a beautiful card
made of cut paper that illustrated part
of "The Witch of the Westmoreland,"
with a line from the song wrapping
around the centaur woman.

Shiv found a black t-shirt
with orange print that had
several cans of spray paint
and read, Art Is Not a Crime.

He didn't dare ask for it, but
Dr. G caught him looking and
held up the shirt to guess his size.

"Is this the one you want?" Dr. G said.
"I think that it suits you very well."

"I really can have it?" Shiv said.

"Yes, of course," Dr. G said.
"Let's go check out. Our time
here is almost up now."

Soon they had their souvenirs
in hand, and Shiv couldn't resist
pulling his shirt on over the top
he was already wearing.

Dr. G picked up his painting
on the way out of the festival,
and Shiv followed along.

In the parking lot, Dr. G said,
"We still have a few minutes.
Would you like to start on
your worksheets here?"

Shiv sighed. "Might as well
get it over with," he said.

Dr. G led him to a picnic table
where a group of children were
making leaf prints on paper with
an assortment of paints and pastels.

"Here you go," he said. "Doing
one worksheet meets your obligation
for academic effort on the field trip.
You can do more for extra points."

Then Dr. G brought out a few pages.
The first one just had big spaces with
a few prompts and a picture of a bus.
"You can fill out the whole sheet
using art if you want," he said.

"Aw, yeah," Shiv said, grinning.

He helped himself to a few pastels,
then drew a little map of the festival,
the things they had done, and some of
the art topics he'd learned, like how
graffiti was a real genre like all the rest.

Then there was the general form
that the prison used for field trips
which read, What was today's goal?
How well did you meet it? Where did
you go? Who did you meet? What if
anything went well? What if anything
went wrong? How did you respond?
What did you learn? How do you
feel about your trip overall?

"You don't have to answer
all the questions if you get stuck,"
Dr. G said when Shiv picked it up.
"Just do the ones you can."

Shiv managed to jot a few words
after most of the questions.
He could use the points.

Finally there was a page
that Dr. G must have made
just for this graffiti festival.

It gave Shiv an idea how much
of the activities Dr. G had planned
in advance, or at least hoped for.

What artists did you meet?
Did you make anything yourself?

the page asked, and Shiv wrote
about Shanti and the spacescape,
with a little doodle of their picture.

Then it read, What were some
of your favorite artworks? What
styles did you see? How did
the art make you feel?

Shiv described the gallery
and tried to remember what
Dr. G had said about the kinds
of art in it. His feelings were,
as usual, mostly a muddle.

"You can write down more than
one feeling," Dr. G said, and
that helped a little bit.

What do you think is
the purpose of street art in
the worksheet asked.

"Can I put what Shanti said?"
Shiv asked. "I think it made
more sense than I've heard before,
and he said that graffiti is ... important,
not just vandalism like everyone else says."

"You can put down whatever you want,"
Dr. G said. "I liked Shanti's phrasing too."

So Shiv wrote out as much as he
could remember of it, then came
to the last questions. What was
your favorite discovery? Which
souvenir did you choose to remind
yourself of this trip, and why?

Shiv fingered the hem of
his new t-shirt. "You really
always meant for me to get
a souvenir?" he asked.

"Yes, if you found one
you wanted," Dr. G said.

So Shiv drew a picture
of his t-shirt and copied
the text, Art Is Not a Crime.

After that, he gave back
the pastels that he'd borrowed,
and then it was time to leave.

The prison looked drab and gray
after all of the green grass and
vivid paint of the graffiti festival.

Shiv heaved a sigh.

"It's okay," Dr. G said. "We
can go on another field trip later.
For now, though, you're probably
more tired than you realize."

"Yeah, maybe," Shiv admitted,
resisting the urge to yawn.

Just being around other people
tended to wear him out, but it had
been so nice to get outside and
do new things that he just ...
forgot about the drawbacks.

The familiar hallways were
boring, but also soothing as
they walked toward Shiv's wing.

In a way, it would feel good
to get back to the cell he shared
with Largo and flop out a while.

"You're out of uniform,
inmate!" barked a voice.

"It's part of the package,"
Shiv protested, which it was.

"All properly negotiated and filed
in advance, according to the policy
for civilian clothing on field trips, and
taken from the prison clothing bank,"
Dr. G added, an edge in his voice.

It was nothing special, just jeans and
a polo shirt, with the souvenir t-shirt
thrown over the top of that. Now that
Shiv was in the standard wing, he could
dress like this if he paid points for it.

"That doesn't let him get away with
wearing clothes that promote
gang activity," Mr. Martinez said.

Dr. G put a hand of Shiv's shoulder,
not to hold him back, but actually
giving him a tiny nudge forward.

And just like that, Shiv had had
enough of Mr. Martinez and his shit.

"Art is not a crime," Shiv said, lifting his chin.
"It's not the style of graffiti that makes it illegal
or legal, it's whether you get permission to do it.
We saw plenty of it at the festival." He struggled
to remember what Dr. G had called that.
"Graffiti is a, a legitimate genre."

"So it is, and that's one of the things
that Shiv studied on today's outing. It's
in his paperwork, and in the festival flyers,"
Dr. G said, slapping Mr. Martinez with a brochure
hard enough that Shiv would've gotten in trouble
if he'd done it. "Why don't you read up on that
before you bother Warden Lincoln about it."

Mr. Martinez grumbled, but Mr. Vanburen
came over and shooed him away from them.
"Hey Shiv, nice t-shirt," said Mr. Vanburen.

"Uh, thanks," said Shiv, tugging at the hem.
"Dr. G bought it for me at the festival."

"Oh yeah?" said Mr. Vanburen. "That's
nice of him. Did you see a lot of art?"

"We sure did," Shiv said, and launched
into a description of their route through
the festival and what they'd seen. He
even prompted Dr. G to show off
the transcendental painting.

"I'm glad you enjoyed the trip
and learned some new things,"
Mr. Vanburen said when
they reached Shiv's cell.

"Yeah, it was a good trip,"
Shiv said with a smile.

"I'll log your new t-shirt, so it
goes into personal laundry later,"
said Mr. Vanburen. "I take it that
you'll want supper in here tonight?"

"Yeah, I think I'd better," Shiv said.
"I'm wrung out from walking and all."

"You did very well today," Dr. G said.
"By all means, relax the rest of the day."

"Thanks for taking me out," Shiv said,
brushing softly between the two men as
Mr. Vanburen opened the door for him.

"You're welcome," Dr. G said, and
then the door closed between them.

Largo grunted a greeting as Shiv
flopped onto his bunk. The larger man
was engrossed in some foreign film.

Shiv folded his arms behind his head
and gazed up at the ceiling, letting
the day's memories flow through him.

The nice thing about art was that
you could take it with you in your mind,
even if you have almost nothing.

* * *


This poem is long, so the character, setting, and content notes appear separately.
Tags: activism, art, cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, networking, poem, poetry, reading, writing

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