TVs left on in any empty house debate the reasons that we play with fire. Impending dusk, and the streets brownout. Down memory lane. Each type of quiet that would pinch your bones: forecasts for dust storms in the hourglass. For now you’re at a party where everyone is in a different room. You probe the little family on the mantel. A guest has stolen baby Jesus. But you’re here alone. Out the window, through the parted curtains, a man follows the distant, tinny song of the ice cream truck into a cul-de-sac. You watch this man, your father, circle round until he stumbles on his knees. His bloody knees. The host is gone. No one will come to refill the canters, to put more pretzels in the bowl. So, what will it be? You fool! Go home. Go home if you can.
The babies began to pile up. The firehouse had been deemed a “safe haven,” but the firemen only had so many bottles, so many diapers. Soon toddlers, a few grade-school kids were found on the stoop. Then an adolescent; a mother-in-law. People just dropped off whomever they didn’t want—feeble veterans, annoying aunts, co-workers, and old flames, too. All became orphans and cast-offs. It got to the point where the firemen couldn’t slide down their pole without crushing heads. They joked the mass of bodies were a fire hazard. “Har-har-har!!”
The chief knew he needed to take action. He called the whip in the State House.
“Damnit, Teddy, can’t you boys do something?!”
“Sorry, Fred-o, legislature’s on break for the May Day recess.”
The chief was going to put his foot down, but he was afraid of stepping on someone.
So the chief asked that the ladder captain to do a study. Why was nobody wanted?
A few days later, the ladder captain reported back that things didn’t look so good: according to his calculations, the whole town would be dropped off before he could deduce more accurate figures. The chief proposed that they put up posters which declared: love, kindness, gratitude. The firemen laughed at this idea. “Har-har-har!!”
The chief was fed up. No one cared. All his public service seemed like so much hooha. He watched a house ablaze in his mind, heard it crack and chortle as its beams came down.
“Har-har-har!!” No one gave a fickle, flying——
The chief’s nose scrunched up. The station smelled of soiled diapers and old lady’s perfume.
“Hmp! To hell with y’all,” the chief said, and stomped off, cracking a few brittle bones on the way. He skulked outside to the stoop, where he could be abandoned to his own thoughts. Whatever passion had kindled in him had been snuffed. The longer he thought about this predicament, in fact, the more the idea seemed sorta funny to him. Before long, the chief started laughing: “Har-har-har!!” He knew no place without some meanness in it.
Gobble up and tipple gallons of oil, corn
syrup, Snickers, bite into niblets, slurp up
buttered Hot Pockets, pork-chops, deep-
fried Ho-Ho’s, suck nipples on spigots, lip
smacking buffets you brace for, old boot
and rally, goulash you sling in, food-mash
and hash-browns, smeary 50¢ buffaloed
wings, bag a Big Gulp, more goop, whip
cream, mystery meat, Spam, lipids—rapid
as all get-out, the transfats congeal. Repeat:
beer or hard liquor, gristmill of the Happy
Meals or Hours demolished. While sickos
nosh on their boogers, the beggars, the
choosers (fuck!) have even eaten a fork.
Choice shards we’ve swallowed, bottle
and cork, taken-in by more take-out, by
a look or a lick, the down on their luck,
snack on poor starch; chug up pure drugs.
A few of those lacking can still stay alive
foraging ketchup packets; packing it in,
going nuts for a nugget, nibbling on nuts
and bolts; others bolt down nothing but
what they buy up in bulk: ham, hog, hot-
dogs—take your pick—all pigged out on.
This megawatt congestion of what Times
Square, a melting shit-pot process put upon
auto-pilot? A big-shot of the competitive
gurgitators, Monsieur Magnatout has out
gulleted us all, slurped a ton of shopping
carts, bicycles, a television set; in a made-
for-TV stunt, he ground down a Cessna
155, this gourmand of our gormless jet-
set, in a leveling rehash of consumption’s
up-chuck, stomached a grosser ability not
to choke. Took a dessert no dieter could,
polishing off a whole coffin, each splinter
bit to dust, snapped up like his toothpick.
He spent—he was spent. It’s never enough,
waste paper, fake butter, cake batter: a bum
wrap, it’s cellulose and packaging. More lite
extracts and knacker’s gelatin, a sugary glut
with substitutes, residues. Big businesses
belly up as local grocers go down the pipe,
showing true grit, in a ripe industrial melt-
down; belt-tightening along conveyor belts
and gutted out cities: its aftertaste from (two
sides of the same con) yes-men, naysayers.
Will Cordeiro received his MFA and Ph.D. from Cornell University. His creative work appears or is forthcoming in Copper Nickel, Cortland Review, Crab Orchard Review, Drunken Boat, Fourteen Hills, Phoebe, Sentence, and elsewhere. He is grateful for residencies from ART 342, Blue Mountain Center, Ora Lerman Trust, and Petrified Forest National Park. He lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, where he is a faculty member in the Honors Program at Northern Arizona University.