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Miss Susie had a steamboat, 
The steamboat had a bell.
Miss Susie went to heaven,
The steamboat went to –

Hello operator,
Please give me number nine.
And if you disconnect me
I’ll chop of your –

Behind the frigerator
There was a piece of glass.
Miss Mary sat upon it.
It went right up her –


Ask me no more questions,
Please tell me no more lies.
The boys are in the bathroom,
Zipping down their –

Flies are in the meadow,
Bees are in the park.
Boys and girls are kissing
In the D-A-R-K

D-A-R-K D-A-R-K dark dark dark

Dark is like a movie,
A movie’s like a show.
A show is like a TV screen,
And that is all I know

I know I know my mother,
I know I know my pa.
I know I know my sister
With the forty acre –

Brother’s like a sister,
A sister’s like an aunt.
An aunt is like a relative
Who likes to rave and rant.

I wish I had a nickel
I wish I had a dime
I wish I had a boyfriend
Who kissed me all the time!

My Ma gave me a nickel
My Pa gave me a dime.
My Sis gave me a boyfriend,
Who’d kiss me all the time

My Ma took back the nickel,
My Pa took back the dime.
My Sis took back her boyfriend,
And gave me Frankenstein!

He made me wash the dishes,
He made me wash the floors,
He made me wash his underwear,
So I kicked him out the door

I kicked him over London,
I kicked him over France.
I kicked him to Hawaii,
where he learned to Hula dance!

My mothers like Godzilla,
My fathers like King Kong.
My sister is the stupid one
That taught me this long song.

Hello operator,
Please give me number ten.
And if you disconnect me,
I’ll sing this song again!

 

Our first task in making sense out of this ranting riddle is to identify the narrator.

The person is young – a child, in all likelihood, rounding on the cusp of adolescence.  He or she avoids uttering swearwords (although clearly familiar with them), avoids direct reference to sexuality (although clearly fascinated by it), mentions a “frigerator”, as well a Ma, a Pa, and a Sister who has a boyfriend.

It becomes clear, as well, that our riddler is a boy.  Brother, introduced a stanza after Ma, Pa, and Sis, is the only member of the family never referred to as “my” relation, and having no direct interaction with the narrator.  Brother and narrator are one and the same.

Setting is more vaguely established.

In the first stanza, we learn about Miss Susie – the lady who owned a steamboat and then went to heaven.  The bell on her boat dates Miss Susie to pre-steam-whistle era, but our storyteller’s later mention of a refrigerator indicates a modern time.  So Miss Susie was a local figure of historical note – a wealthy woman who never married and who died suddenly, making no provision for the management of her steamboat (hence it “went to hell” after she went to heaven).

Steamboats most commonly operate on rivers; the boy’s home must exist along such a waterway.  There is mention in later lines to a meadow and a park.  Most tellingly, as one line informs us, “the boys are in the bathroom, zipping down their flies,” we realize the bathroom is large enough to accommodate multiple toilets or urinals.  Further, bathroom-time is coordinated, with all the boys using the facilities simultaneously.  It seems as though Brother resides in some sort of boarding-school or other boys-only institution.

As the poem proceeds, it becomes clear that the child-narrator is struggling.  The boy manages to say the word “dark”, only after spelling it out three times – thus for the first concluding a stanza in a coherent manner.  It is in the next four verses that we come to a full understanding of the young narrator’s situation.

 

“Dark is like a movie,/ A movie’s like a show./ A show is like a TV screen,/ And that is all I know.”
Dark is like a movie, in that it’s like a show, or a flickering screen.  This may be a literal description, if, in the dark, this child is able to see things that other people are not.  It may, in this context, also refer to something more profound.  Perhaps this child means to say the distance between life and death is an illusion.  The veil between the now and the hereafter is thin and porous.

Consider the cast of characters to whom our rhymester has thus far introduced us.  There is Miss Susie, whose beloved steamboat was abandoned after her death.  Miss Mary, who kept a smooth piece of glass behind the refrigerator for the purpose of anal play.  (It would surprise no one, I think, if that pastime resulted one day in severe internal bleeding.)  There are the children who come out in the dark to kiss each other.

Brother sees dead people.

When he describes himself as like his sister, his aunt, and another ranting, raving relative, it becomes clear that his Sight is a family gift.  When he addresses Ma, Pa, and Sis directly, describing them as supernaturally proportioned and resembling movie monsters, it is tragically obvious that they are dead.  (This explains his living situation in a boys’ home.)

They are not happy.

Brother’s experience bears the classic hallmarks of a maleficent haunting.  Insect swarms take over the school grounds.  Objects of no particular worth are endowed with a supernatural fascination; we see our young narrator fixate on a pair of coins that appear and disappear at random.  When no one is around, the ghosts torment him; we hear him plea for an end to the questions and lies while the other boys take a bathroom break.

His isolation from others is total.  The ghosts who appear absorb his attention so entirely that he frequently will end a story mid-sentence.  He tries to fight, but they have a power over him.  Among the most compelling of the haunts is a character known as the Operator.  This spirit seems to be a mediator, able to connect and disconnect him with different lines or channels of consciousness.  This spirit also terrifies the boy, to the point that his sudden appearance inspires threats of bodily dismemberment.

Bit by bit, our young narrator cedes to the spirits’ influence.  He is undone when he accepts the physical affection of a boy under his dead sister’s possession.  Opening his body to one under the tenure of a spirit leaves him vulnerable to the spirit world himself.  He is quickly possessed by Frankenstein – he who knew how to make a monster.

In a strange trance, Brother washes dishes, floors, and underwear.  Something in that ritual triggered Brother to expel the spirit from the boys’ home.  We might think this was an act of victory – but no.  Brother remains with Frankenstein as the spirit reappears in London, France, and Hawaii, taking possession of one who knows how to Hula dance.

Brother, like his Ma, Pa, and Sister before him, could not survive between two realms.  He is one now with the spirits who possess vulnerable others around the world.  Yet he clings to the hopes his sister once shared: by the magic of song he might remember who he is.  With that song, he will haunt the Operator who once haunted him, until he crosses over to a higher channel.