Author: Buff Whitman-Bradley
Location: Northern California
Buff Whitman-Bradley is the author of two books of poetry, b.eagle, poet,
and The Honey Philosophies.
His work has appeared in numerous journals. In addition to writing, he produces documentary videos and audios, including, with his wife Cynthia, the award-winning documentary film Outside In
, about people who visit prisoners on San Quentin's death row. His interviews with GIs who have refused to participate in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan can be heard at www.couragetoresist.org
. He lives in northern California.
In The Music Room
In the music room the kindergarten children are arranged according to height on the risers waiting to begin a performance for their parents. They are all nervous energy wiggling and chirping and twittering but they stay in their places except for one little boy who refuses to remain arranged. Over and over again he climbs down from his assigned spot and wanders around the room plinking the keys of the piano plonking a glockenspiel banging various drums. Several times his teacher takes him back to his place and several times the boy strays again until the director steps in front of the group and signals for attention and miraculously the wanderer stays put.
The kids sing a few songs and are predictably cute and adorable for their families. The little boy doesn’t seem the least interested in what’s going on. Although he remains in his place he mostly gazes around the room up at the ceiling out the window singing a phrase or two once in a while when it seems to dawn on him where he is and what he’s supposed to be doing there.
The next song is “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” and the five-year-olds break into a full-throated rendition of the piece and this time the little guy throws his head back turns the volume way up and joins in – only he is singing an entirely different tune and entirely different words and his song can be heard above the combined voices of all the other children. There is a look of sublime radiance on his face he is transported and the listeners on folding chairs are transported too riding the joyous off-kilter notes he sends rollicking up through the roof. The other children are obviously inspired by him because they begin singing louder now with even more verve which in turn eggs the boy on to crank up the decibels and really cut loose. This is counterpoint! This is true music the genuine article the real deal! This is Johann and the Comets, Wolfgang and Jerry Lee, Ludwig and Fats! This must be just what the gods had in mind when they cooked up song.
When the singing stops the classroom fills with cheers and applause in wild appreciation of a moment of pure beauty that electrified the spirit and somersaulted the heart. While the rest of the children giggle and bow and wave at their parents the little boy rushes off the risers to where the music teacher stands throws open his arms as wide as the world and exults That was great!
I told this story to friends the other night as we sat around the kitchen table after supper drinking tea and conversing as usual about politics and the state of the world. We rattled off a familiar litany of evils and ills. How the poor and powerless are under constant attack by governments and armies and corporations. How people who resist imperial predators are mutilated and mangled and murdered by the diabolical machinery of state terror. How a billion persons go hungry while we spend trillions to bail out corrupt bankers. How capitalism turns all life into commodities while chewing up the earth befouling the air and water poisoning our food. How the living dead who inhabit boardrooms and prowl the halls of power can't even pretend to give a shit about the rest of us. How fascism and racism are on the rise and dissent is being crushed. How all of our marching and picketing and demonstrating and petitioning and sitting in and blocking doorways and intersections seem to have had no effect at all in slowing down the train we’re riding to oblivion. Needless to say we were not of good cheer and the more we talked the deeper we sank in the Slough of Despond.
We were up to our chins in despair when I hauled out the tale of the singing boy and it worked. It broke the gloomy spell we had cast and lifted our spirits out of the mire because it shifted our attention back to what the struggle against the death-in-lifers is really all about. About a life-affirming world where everybody no exceptions is welcome on the risers all raising our own joyful noises to the high wide heavens and the heavens shouting back to us That was great!