One day the iceman came no more.
Neither did the coalman with his telescopic chute.
Nor the junkman with his horse and cart,
his dust and sweat-streaked face.
Not even the milkman’s xylophone
of bottles could be heard jangling
through the magenta streets of dawn.
That day the wide-eyed band of women
in calico aprons, pockets bulging with
clothespins, were swept away to a buzzing
world where everything came with its own
complication of cord. But these women of faith
knew what to do. They dove in and took refuge
in Houdini’s secret, hiding a small brass key
in their mouths.
And they did what they’d always done,
took everyone in—the plug-in refrigerator
and washing machine, a menagerie of electric
can openers, ice-crushers, and coffee mills.
And the Edsel of home appliances:
the sit-down steam press that could snatch
a shirt from your hands, send it back
an origami waffle with melted buttons.
It was Fat Tuesday in the history of man’s
imagination, a festival of dazzling inventions,
each one out-doing the next. The bobby pin
bowed to the Spoolie, the Spoolie
to the electric roller. The wood-sided
station wagon sidled up, wired
with a radio and its very own garage.
And the suburbs—that great yawn of grass
with its pastel stutter of houses, all
stocked with friendly products: Hamburger
Helper, Aunt Jemima, a detergent
called Cheer, a dish soap named Joy.
Turquoise linoleum nests, feathered
with vim and verve where they delivered
us, girls who grew into flowers, ceding
ourselves to the wind. They watched
in dismay as we pulled up those tender
roots and headed out for the likes of India
or Back to the Land. They couldn’t understand
why we left our humming dowries behind—
plug-in frying pans, carving knives, and brooms.
But on our way out they drew near,
as mothers do, and slipped us the keys—
the small brass keys they’d kept all the while
in their mouths, but never used.
—from Rattle #32, Winter 2009
Read by Tim