I’m six. Ben Franklin is teaching me how to hold a candlepin bowling ball. I already know how. My dad taught me. But it is my turn to ‘bowl with Ben,’ and Ben is sweaty, and all the other kids’ eyes are on Ben. And me.
Franklin, my home town, is named after Ben. When Franklin wanted to name themselves Franklin, they wrote Ben and asked for bells. Ben sent books instead. Ben said: start a library, just like Ben would do.
Franklin started a library. The first public library in America. The books sit in a glass case by the circulation desk. I always wanted to read them, but was afraid to ask.
Ben is out in front of the parade with my grandfather. My grandfather is wearing a tricorn hat, just like Ben. When they are passing the library, Grampa runs over to kiss me and my sister. Ben nods in our direction. He knows that I won the book report contest at school. He knows. Ben is proud of me.
In the Franklin public library there are large paintings circling a cathedral-like reading room. In this reading room, I wrote my first research paper. On walruses. I remember that Jacques Cousteau said, about the walrus, that we need to learn to love even the ugliest of nature’s offerings.
Ben agreed. Ben wanted the turkey to be America’s national symbol. He wrote to his daughter that the turkey is “a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”
Ben and Jacques, I think, have beers in heaven.
My aunt sent a story from CBS Boston. The article reports that someone has stolen a 300 lb. bell from the front of the Franklin historical Museum.[i] Bells, or the lack of, will always make me think of Ben.
Ben came to our school occasionally and hung out in the library. One time he was wearing a coonskin cap.
I remember Ben in a coonskin cap standing next to a reading rainbow poster.
I remember Ben sitting in a helicopter on the town common, thanking the soldiers for their service in the gulf.
I sometimes expect Ben to be there. Wherever I am. Libraries. Bookstores. Fire engine museums. I expect Ben Franklin, in his yellowing socks and his specs, to be tiptoeing through the shelves with his dainty-ass flare – whispering, always in French: “Dan, Dan – prenez soin des livres!
Favorite Ben invention: the glass armonica. The glass armonica’s life was short because it gave those who played it mercury poisoning. All the same, Mozart composed several pieces for the instrument. This is one of them.
Out in front of the library is a big bronze statue of Ben reading.
At night, especially on nights of great weather, people say there will be a book, but no Ben.
Ben goes walking, they say. The librarian denies this, but I heard she keeps a copy of The Bronze Horseman close…
I’m really glad that Ben sent books instead of bells. Glad that he helped teach me how to bowl. Really glad that he likes helicopters. And perhaps because of these things, I’m glad that he visits me in my sleep.
I dream I am in a biplane with Ben. Ben is in the rear. I am shouting back: “Look at the stars, Ben! Look at the stars!”
I hope he visits again soon. But, alas, I cannot make him. He is a stubborn, sweaty, cranky, and rather creepy founding father. But he is my founding father.
And you cannot choose your founding father.
Dan Chelotti’s recent poems have appeared, or will be appearing in Fence, notnostrums, North American Review, Bateau, Gulf Coast, Handsome, Court Green, and other fine journals. He was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and is the author of two chapbooks, The Eights (PSA 2006) and Day Later (False Indigo Press 2011). His prose can be found in Slack Lust and Kenyon Review Online. He teaches writing at Elms College.