Bless Me, Mr. Pavlov...

...I am being negatively reinforced.

I have heard the shrill beeps and coarse honks
enough times to hear them now in my head.

The silent beeps and honks
are all that is needed to stop my movement
toward that parked car to turn off its headlights.

Soon I will not even think of doing that good deed,
And that good feeling I grew up with,
I will be leaving that behind.

* * *

I was in a grocery store, standing in an aisle, deciding,
when a toddler toddled up and said:
Hi Hi Hi Hi
(like toddlers do).
I said Hi back and asked his name and where were his parents.

Whirling around the corner of the aisle then came his frantic mother.
She looked at him and grabbed his arm hard.
She looked at me and scowled and narrowed her eyes
and in a loud, shrill whisper and low, coarse growl
said to the boy (while spitting at me with her eyes)
Don't talk to strangers,
Never talk to strangers,
Stay away from strangers.
And the boy looked at me,
and the other shoppers looked at me,
like I was from the dark alley.

The whisper and the growl and the hatred
are beginning to settle into my head now.

* * *

My dad bought a gun, a pistol.
(He had a shotgun and a rifle, gotten long ago,
but they were for hunting.)
He bought this simple mechanism for killing
to protect his home, his family
in the small, safe town where he lives.

He had heard the global village criers
lean forward into the camera, the microphone, the page,
and tell him of such crimes every day somewhere
in the state, on the continent, in the world.

He read brochures from people who want him to have a gun.
They told of bad things happening,
and pressed more fear into his palm,
where it became like currency, needing to be spent.

They all told vivid details of crimes somewhere
in the state, on the continent, in the world.
They transferred the bad things into his living room.
The odds were lottery-like,
but like the lottery,
he thought it could happen to him.

I have not bought a gun, do not need a gun.
But the thought is there.

* * *

My friendliness and concern are fraying
from the beeps and honks
from the whispers and growls.

My peace of mind is slipping,
greased by the cries of the criers
and the gall of the gun-mongers.

Bless me, Mr. Pavlov, I am being negatively reinforced,
and I fear the emptiness will grow larger.

Harry W. Yeatts Jr.