Benjamin Brindise

Periods Like Bullet Holes

I bought a notebook on the day
another gunman opened fire in San Bernardino, California
It called to me from the shelf of a discount store
In the car, the radio had mentioned an active shooter
and those wavelengths were still playing off the insides of my head
their bend, a twist, to not let me forget
It called to me like the voices of those whose chapter closed
the displacement of so many breaths never taken
pushed air through it
like a closing page
And I picked it up and felt the black grip,
ran my fingers in the golden type face
I hoped I could fill the pages
with descriptions of things I thought were beautiful
and broken, and scarred, and twisted
in just the right way
before a gunman opens fire here


Note: this piece was originally published in Artvoice.

My Moment

I’m eleven and my palms are sweaty
I’m worried about my mouth being too dry, while
simultaneously terrified I’ll get the reed too wet
Everyone else gets to hide
in the anonymity of a group sound
but at some point that roar will drop away
it’ll be just me and my oboe, a solo
who has ever heard of an oboe solo?

It’s not even because I’m good at the oboe
everyone gets a solo. Fair’s fair.
I grew up in the age of tenth place ribbons
Everyone’s a winner, I hate it
I want someone to tell me I’m not good
so I can start doing something I actually want to do

Jimmy Warren is three seats down from me
and his cheeks are red from blowing into his trumpet
I’m pretty sure no one is enjoying this
I keep my mouth on my oboe
but my eyes start to wander
Brass, percussion, flutes, and then I see the string’s section
There aren’t many spotlights in the amphitheater
but one of them is on Lula West
and the first thing I notice
is the way it makes her hair glow
Tucked behind one ear is a group of buttercups
that sway as she plays her violin
The focus on her face is mesmerizing
I’ve seen Lula before, but I’ve never seen her
not like this

I feel something for the first time
I have no idea what it means
but it feels like a balloon is expanding in my chest
and I don’t mind
The curve of her cheek against the violin
the way a shadow hung in her upturned dimple
the flowers in her hair
All these things suddenly matter

I only get to enjoy this for a moment
My cue is coming up
and it’ll be time to sink or swim
This is unfortunate
but sometimes a moment is all you get
and you either appreciate it, or you waste it
wishing it lasted longer

My oboe is still playing, my fingers are moving
but she has my eyes and attention. Lula West.
She pulls the violin from her chin
her dark brown eyes meet mine and she smiles
Everything bad in the world suddenly makes sense
There must have to be that much ugly
to balance the beauty in one face

And then the music is gone
- complete silence ensues
It’s only the briefest of breaks
but in it I can feel Barb Hayden next to me breathing
I can feel the itch of the rented suit I’m wearing
The lights become small suns
that make my forehead sweat, and yet
I’m not nervous

My fingers find the right notes
and I play my oboe as if it were a part of my body
It’s music like the inhale and exhale
of air from my lungs
I’m not thinking about it, thought
I’m thinking about Lula West
and the way her eyes seemed to see something in me
I’d never known was there

It’s a beautiful moment
I revel in it,
attempting to squeeze every last drop
that I can from it
But then the time is gone
the music picks up
and my moment
is over 

A Poem to your Shadow

You don’t show up in mirrors anymore

not like you used to, underneath my eyes
or hanging over my head
You used to be sewn to my feet -
I took you everywhere I went


You stood behind me, and for the longest time
I thought that meant you had my back
but how often has help come, from one
who’s only ever looking over your shoulder?

We liked to commiserate together -
I thought this was a good thing
blood letting the darkness insides us, but
you are like a puddle

I may just splash once
but that waters coming along
informing the next steps taken
and leaving them marked

You didn’t follow me, I carried you
in the front pockets of old coats
that smell like cheap cigarettes and bad nights
in shoeboxes full of pictures I’ve been too afraid to burn

In cupped hands walking to the front of church
like a blanket so that when the lights went out
I was fine because I was already used to the dark
You don’t show up in mirrors anymore

Not since I put you down 


Note: this piece was originally published in The Karibu News.

You Caught Me

We both like Holden Caufield and mirrors
Quick wit and sharp tongues
that never really sat right in our mouths
Our hats are red and worn high, not to stand out
but to hide the fact we’re uncomfortable on our own
You caught me

I was flying through a field of unmet expectations
each strand of rye slapping against my face, like doubt
That I deserved to stop before I reached the edge
That I was worth catching, worth waiting for
worth a little bit more than the credit I refused to give myself
Your hands, running over the curves of my face,
Waking me, as if I hadn’t known my face had shape

That first time,
When I waited like three full minutes longer than I should have to kiss you
after a day of speaking in whispers out the sides of our mouths
two-third insults to strangers, one-third the things we’re too afraid to tell anyone else
You caught me

But we didn’t stay sixteen forever
We became reflections of the clichés we came to hate
We drag them behind us like the jealousy for our ex-roommates suitcase
We always wanted more

The biggest fear I ever had in this life was settling
You said yours was being content
So since then we’ve been less concerned with what it is
than what the content meant
We like things that remind us of ourselves

I always had a book with me
and you were quick to send me texts of quotes you liked
Ones that looked at life in its plainest terms
and weren’t afraid to bite you
Because we weren’t perfect
We were shifting structures at odds with our foundations
and if the angles we uncomfortably stay in
are more a product of the chaotic world around us –
Well wouldn’t that be nice? 

Big shoulders and clammy hands
Filled with guilt and poor decisions
Always afraid we weren’t good enough
but trying anyway
We are two separate people
We were not cut from the same cloth
but the edge fabric of our lives
have been woven together
by not wanting to be phony
By wanting to wait for something authentic
in an unauthentic world

You caught me

Benjamin Brindise is a Teaching Artist at the Just Buffalo Literary Center and an author of poetry and fiction. He represented Buffalo, NY in the 2015 National Poetry Slam and will represent the city again in 2016. He has previously been published in Tangent Literary Magazine, Down in the Dirt, Artvoice, The Karibu News and the Enriched with Dirt Anthology. He is currently finishing work on his first novel, A Bad Spot