By Kathryn Cowles
after The Way Things Go, by Peter Fischli
and David Weiss
I give the boot on a stick a push.
The boot circles round and kicks the light switch on, which, as the open bulb grows hot, melts the balloon full of red red paint, which drips down to fill up the glass precariously balanced until it tips over and breaks, tripping a wire on its way down,
and the wire sends a spoon attached to a little weighted car down a ramp, and the spoon hits against strategically placed tuning forks in different notes as it travels down, and the tuning forks are each pointed toward a red and white megaphone set at full volume, and the megaphones serve to amplify the little 12-note tune that I can’t get out of my head,
and when the spoon car gets to the bottom of the ramp, it smacks into a striped target, which knocks a red bowling ball onto an oversized inflated black plastic bag, which releases its air into a long silver tube in a burst, causing the white canvas windmill at the other end of the tube to turn, which tips the wooden seesaw structure so that it releases its 1,000 one-inch rubber balls in various shades of red and pink and gray and black down a 25-foot wooden plank, and then into a metal chute, where they line up and twist and turn their way, roller-coaster-like, to the bottom of the track, picking up speed all the while,
and at the bottom, they split into two tracks and collect in two separate tubs attached to two separate strings that will only pull once enough balls have accumulated in the tubs, given enough weight, one string attached to a trip wire attached to an oversized match, which quickly strikes against its measure of sandpaper and lights on fire, and the other string attached to the safety catch of a tightened, loaded bow above it,
and the string slowly, slowly, as the waiting match burns down, as the tub fills with one-inch balls, slowly pulls at the safety catch until it, quite suddenly,
releases, letting loose the paraffin-soaked arrow, which passes through the flame of the oversized match and lights up as it shoots just feet above the heads of the seated spectators in the outdoor garden of the art museum, over, across the open space, grazing on the other side of the crowd a wick attached to the paraffin-soaked cardboard mannequin,
which bursts into a flame that lights all the attached oversized sparklers from their shortened bases, and they burn in reverse, outward, and the mannequin sags, and the mannequin gets infinitesimally lighter, as the sparklers drop their ash to the ground and as the chemicals react and burn away, so that the enormous and sensitive scale holding the sparklered mannequin on one side becomes outweighed by the enormous pile of inflated red balloons on the platform on the other side of the scale and slowly lifts into the air,
and a metal ball rolls in a track along the edge of the platform and catches in a pocket on one end of a wooden plank,
causing the giant catapult full of red-dyed baking soda on the other end of the wooden plank to fling its contents in the air and, upon hitting the vat of red-dyed vinegar in the center of the giant papier-mâché model of a volcano, to bubble up over the edge and through a rugged papier-mâché channel painted to look like rock on the side of the volcano,
and the fake lava flows into a water wheel, which turns and turns, and the turning untwists a 50-foot length of rope from around a pole high above the crowd, out on the end of a crane,
and the pole is attached to the side of a bathtub full of confetti made from hole-punching-to-pieces every letter or postcard you ever sent me every photograph I have of you every scrap of film every original thing every only-copy-that-exists and that might hurt to lose,
and the bathtub turns,
and turns on its pole,
and upends its contents onto the crowd
as 12 pianos each tuned to a single note drop in succession,
a literal kind of surround
playing the little tune I can’t get out of my head,
as confetti cannons shoot red
tissue-paper flowers into the air,
as the tissue-paper flowers pass through the blaze
of the four flamethrowers, strategically placed,
as they light one after the other and burn completely to ash before landing gently and harmlessly alongside the confetti on the heads and shoulders of the crowd in the art museum garden 50 feet below.
Kathryn Cowles’s newest book is Maps and Transcripts of the Ordinary World (Milkweed 2020). Recent poems in Best American Experimental Writing, Boston Review, Diagram, Free Verse, Georgia Review, New American Writing, Verse, the Academy of American Poets Poem-a-day, and elsewhere. She earned her doctorate from the U of Utah and is an associate professor of English at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, where she co-edits the poetry and multi-media sections of Seneca Review. kathryncowles.com.
Originally published in NOR 22.