31 January 2011

Aztec Bard...Straight, No Chaser.

On the day that Dan Dretzka fell through the ice there was a breeze that whispered “spring” to those who were listening. Mike Stencil wasn't listening. Nobody was, really – they were all too busy thinking about the high gas prices and wondering what this thing called “disco” was all about. The Dretzka family didn't think too much about disco, to tell the honest truth, and neither did the Stencils. They didn't think too much about listening for the things that a winter breeze might be saying that dark, dark day, either.

First of all, Dan Dretzka (not his real name, but it sure sounds a lot like his real name if you must know) fell through the ice and was drowned. It was winter, and we were always told to stay away from the shoreline of that big old body of water that was so big and frightening and laid there cold and ominous all winter long. It is one of what we call the “Great Lakes," children.  Seeing as part of this vignette takes place in Milwaukee and part in Chicago, you can guess which Great Lake it is. We were told to stay away from the shoreline during winter when all of the ice built up into great sheets that stretched out over the surface of the water, agitated and weakened by waves until pockets of loose ice formed – deadly little holes that would swallow anyone who put his or her weight on them. Down, down the unsuspecting person would plunge into the icy water. Getting out of there would be next to impossible.

Dan went walking out on the sheets of ice one winter day, and as a friend of his watched in horror he broke through a hole in the ice and snow and plunged – down, down into the icy water. He was not seen again until sometime in spring. Dan made the news twice that year. Those of us who were schoolchildren at the time took our parents' warnings very seriously the next winter.

Mike Stencil did not know Dan Dretzka. I didn't know Dan Dretzka either. I don't know anyone who knew Dan Dretzka personally, and a Google search incorporating his (real) name and the words “Milwaukee,” “ice, “drowning,” and death turn up nothing. I am not surprised, I guess – it was a long time ago, and Dan was just a young kid in junior high school. At the same time that Dan was plunging down, down into the icy waters, Mike Stencil was sitting in a coffeehouse, reading bad poetry. His own bad poetry. Luckily he was reading it silently and to himself.

“Aztec bard scratches belly through guitar;
honey-liquor honey-pot and rasp of sand
look at those damned black eyes of yours
and tell me you lie.

just say it.
tell me.

damned Aztec bard.”

The grey-blue ice and the cold steel-colored waters lie a whole lot less than any Aztec bard, Mike. Just ask Dan Dretzka if you could – you can't, but he would tell you. The ice and the water and snow and the sky and the cold, cold air that he longed to breathe. They told the truth in 1973 and they probably tell the truth today.

Bards always seem to lie – damned Aztec bard.

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