Two stainless steel tables spread with home-baked sweets,
operating. Brownies, especially, laced with nuts;
hunch-backed walnuts breaking the surface, the ugliness
so inviting. All of it over-wrapped
in plastic wrap, pressed down, too clean. Someone slipped
Toll house! Okay, the idea to bring cookies to the man
who charged a toll, but a man about to alter and charge you
giving you cookies?
I had to sign up, if I wanted to ride the fire truck to no fire,
or could, while waiting, just hold the hose at full force,
which I did, planted my feet in the open field
and wore a fire helmet. But there was no time
to chat about the weight I felt on my head. But as I looked around
everything that was going wrong with me, which
more and more I did, I thought about the gung ho guys
who put out fires, who wore their helmets backwards,
so that they looked like baseball caps worn
the way they were made to be worn. Worn the usual way
they were made to be worn, the helmets looked like baseball caps worn
backwards, which were, and still are, stylish, if you can follow that.
If you can’t, consult a plastic surgeon, I guess,
and just take his word for it. I think it’s something to do
with the need to always be
one step ahead of cool, the biggest competitor.
Though feet firmly planted, I still felt like I might tip over. Anyway,
I handed over the hose and went to where the cakes dripped
with frostings the familiar color of cheap jewels and vinyl siding,
where the cake wheel made of board and bright nails, when spun,
whirred and wound down to a few ticks. And if the stiff ticker landed
on the number written between two nails – the number that matched
the number written in magic marker on the index card handed to me, well . . .
well, I could have died. I won.
Scott Withiam is the author of Arson & Prophets, a collection of poems published by The Ashland Poetry Press in 2003. His poems have appeared in AGNI, Beloit Poetry Journal, Drunken Boat, Green Mountains Review, Cimarron Review, Poetry East, and Poetry International. Poems are forthcoming in Ploughshares and Tar River Poetry. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (updated 3/2010)