The Rusty Toque | Issue 4 | Poetry | February 15, 2013
There once was a blind kid who comforted himself
daily with a dial tone, cradled a plastic phone
to his ear for hours, who later became the freak
midday-calling the Russian foreign embassy
pretending to be a radio talk-show host, invited
the soviet on-air for a round of American trivia,
tugging conversation and teasing out talks
for as long as possible to give tracers the time
to find him, arrest him, and provide him a bed.
This was the 1950s, before the effects of sound
on the human psyche were investigated with
quite the panache they are now. Before a car-horn
in F-sharp was standardly applied to all new vehicles,
and the minor second interval was enthusiastically
assigned to rear moving, heavy-load Mack trucks.
At that time, a dial tone was just a telephony signal
indicating that the exchange is working,
confirming the off hook, ready to transmit a call.
In 1949, the middle-aged and sufficiently
well-mannered educators and nurses
at the Fernald School in Massachusetts,
famously provided their developmentally
challenged students with radioactive oatmeal,
the city-funded leg of a state-funded project,
determining the precise amount of juice
the human body could tolerate before collapse.
Three times daily, the children gathered
in the bustling school cafeteria, oftentimes
chasing one another, pushing, poking, tripping,
until finally settling on the long wooden
benches lining the lunch tables, outfitted
with stacks of handmade ceramic bowls
and Lucite green water glasses neatly embossed
with tiny images of post-war airplanes.
Whispering and pinching each other, they waited
as each child was served a level ladle of slop,
each glass filled three-quarters-full,
ten children per row, and every one numbered,
carefully monitored, even marveled at
by the attending, on-site, medical professionals,
the kitchen-help swaying to the muffled radio,
Louis Armstrong’s A Kiss to Build a Dream On.
AMBER MCMILLAN is a teacher and writer living in Toronto, Ontario. Her poems have appeared in fwriction: review, The Puritan, and Emerge Literary Journal.