Useful Bad Advice for First Responders

"In EMT School," a poem by Ron Riekki

A car wreck in a field

Useful Bad Advice for First Responders

In EMT School

The instructor told us to get ready.
As if you can get ready for what was coming up.

After lunch, it’s a bunch of slides of decapitations, he said,
so don’t eat too much.

I ate a lot. Barbecue. It was pretty good.
When I got back, the instructor asked me what I ate.

Barbecue, I said.
You know, he said, you’re going to have to respond to fires

and you probably don’t know this, but burned people smell a lot like pork.
You’ll walk up to a fire and it’s going to smell a lot like a barbecue, he said.

I don’t eat barbecue, he said, anymore.
He tried to start up the projector but it wasn’t working.

I saw the class do their little rituals to get ready for the slides of decapitations, fidgeting.
I thought about those words—'slides of decapitations.'

I thought about a merry-go-round of decapitations
and a park bench of decapitations

and a swing set of decapitations
and a tree fort of decapitations.

And then the projector started working and he showed us what he said he would. 
There was a lot of laughing for something that was so incredibly not funny.

That’s how life works.
I remember a bombing standup at an open mic who looked like he’d just about kill

for a laugh

but he couldn’t get one
no matter how hard he tried.

But here were all these decapitations and nervous laughter all over the room.
The slides were mostly of car accidents.

A student got up and walked out of the room;
she never came back. I remember how she looked like a really nice person.

And I remember how I kept looking at the head of the instructor.
I kept wondering why he was showing all these decapitations.

He was a fire chief. And the whitest guy I’ve seen in my entire life.
I’m part indigenous and I hate that term—'fire chief.'

Just that term makes me a little nauseous inside.
It’s the indigenous part of me that gets nauseous.

The white part of me doesn’t care.
That’s what white privilege means. It means

not having to care.
I was thinking about all this while he showed us all the heads.

Someone in the class said, So, what do we do if we come up on someone like that?
There was a head on the screen.

All by itself.
On a road.

Nothing, the instructor said, Nothing.
Then why are you showing this to us?

To see if you still want to be an EMT, he said.
I’m saving you money, he said.

And then he showed us another decapitation
and then there weren’t any more slides left.

He turned off the projector.
Are we all EMTs now? a student asked.

No, he said, Not even close.
He gave us a bathroom break.

When I was in the military, we had to call the bathroom ‘the head.’
I thought about that while I was pissing.

I think maybe they called it that
because in boot camp

when we’d get to go to the bathroom
there’d be a line of people in front of your stall

waiting for you to finish.
There was no door on the stall

so all these people
would just stare at you on the toilet.

They’d just stare at your head
and you’d just stare at the floor.

When people say, Thank you for your service to me,
I always think of all those guys staring at my big dumb head while I was on the toilet.

And then I laugh 
and they don’t know why I’m laughing. And I kind of don’t either.

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