The tinsmith was in Hellgate
for last minute repairs in Memorial Day’s
morning dark. A smoking cheroot
or strike-anywhere match, some slight
set off the boiling tar. Walls of tarpaper
and a colossal papier-mâché devil bat
went up. A watchman saw the underworld
boat-ride shimmering in eerie, red light
and pulled on the fire box, a two-alarm
that soon became five. Coney Island’s
marble city quickly betrayed its faux
construction; palaces of lathe and plaster
glowed into crumbling briquettes.
Pump horses shied and reared, useless
hooks and ladders, astounding heat
overwhelmed the firemen. The Infant
Incubator, Midget Village and Congress
of Curious People were evacuated.
Haunted Swing and Chair-O-Plane
withered to a crust.
The Leapfrog Train tracks turned
to white-hot curls. At the Cyclorama
of Biblical Creation, a blazing ring leapt
out the door and soared into the parting
crowd—a Nubian lion, her mane on fire,
in so much agony it took thirty bullets
to put her down. From Steeplechase
and Luna Park the multitude watched
a fleet of high-flung structures go white
with flame, a double-nine alarm.
On the first day of the season, Dreamland
became in fact what it often appeared
to be when its gleaming spires and minarets
scorched the dusk with a hundred thousand
electric lights—a cemetery of fire.
--Cattlemen and Cadillacs anthology
Dallas Poets Community Press 2016