It looks like a bamboo flute, but has a motor that draws air across a copper plate treated with chemicals which, exposed to empathy, the urge to serve, selfless concern for others, etc., makes the flute toot “When the Saints Go Marching In” with a Chinese accent (so to speak) that never fails to charm listeners and choke off fears that some monk in their midst might ask for cash, or be a terrorist.
Once found-out, the kindly are tracked to their homes, and forcibly enrolled at the Institute for General Decency. There, Beginners practice dropping coins in beggars’ hands, helping strangers who fall in the street, smiling non-sexually at passers-by, giving small gifts for no reason—a plush kitten, a sudoku game . . .
Intermediates learn to let a driver cut into a crush of cars, and not aoogah when that driver does the same.
Advanced students spend hours climbing trees to free stuck kites for kids, and don’t sue when they fall.
In this way, we cull our culture’s saboteurs, and keep them busy, amid flowers and trees, where the good they do does little harm at all.
TRUTH IN ADVERTISING
I assumed “Three Bedroom Apartment, 600 Per Month. Won’t Last!” meant, “Grab it fast.” The potted orchids I gave my wife for Valentine’s, “guaranteed to brighten your home for years,” turned brown and brittle before Mother’s Day. Even the pencil stub that scratches this complaint once stretched eight inches, with an orange eraser-crown.
Nothing lasts. Everybody knows.
Still, I was shocked to see a black void in the building where our three bedrooms had been.
Only as I screamed for my wife and our two girls did I recall the other ad, in the same throwaway rag: “Two Pure-Bred King Charles Spaniel Puppies. Can’t Be Separated. Free.”
I called the number, elated to think how much the girls (dancing with glee) would learn, each mothering a pup. I pictured nights by the big-screen, the dogs on their young owners’ laps, everybody bubbling with bliss.
But when I reached the address the owner gave—with, in retrospect, something troubling in his voice—there the Siamese-twin puppies lay.
Charles Harper Webb has published eight books of poetry, including Reading the Water, Liver, Tulip Farms & Leper Colonies, Hot Popsicles, and Amplified Dog.Shadow Ball: New and Selected Poems was published in 2009 by the University of Pittsburgh press. Webb’s awards in poetry include the Morse Prize, the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, the Felix Pollock Prize, and the Benjamin Saltman Prize. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Paris Review, Iowa Review, Ploughshares, Michigan Quarterly Review, Poets of the New Century, Best American Poetry, and The Pushcart Prize.