This poem came out of the January 4, 2011 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from ellenmillion and sponsored out of general funds, selected by the audience in a recent poll.
Engine 18 is a real Detroit firefighting company, among the oldest. Devil's Night (aka Hell Night) is an arson fest that thrived in Detroit for years before being somewhat repressed; not all of the horror in my poetry is imaginary.
In Detroit, dalmatians never really caught on.
The long elegant lines proved too dapper
for a working man's city, the spackled white coat
impossible to keep clean.
It was Devil's Night when the crew of Engine 18
noticed a mutt-ugly form loping alongside their truck,
effortlessly keeping the pace.
When they hooked up the hoses and went to work,
he sat just out of reach, watching them
douse the burning houses with white arcs of water.
They tried to shoo him away, but the mutt
simply flicked a ragged left ear and danced out of reach.
Once they stopped chasing him, he sat back down.
Only when the flaming walls of a tenement collapsed,
trapping three of the firemen inside,
did the scruffy grey form spring into action.
He dodged the yelling rescue crew and
dashed into the fire,
soon to reappear dragging a fireman by the boot.
Twice more he vanished into the flames
and returned, the final time forcing his way out
through piles of rubble, fireman tucked under his body.
The firemen put out the smouldering fur
and laid the mutt on a nest of blankets in the truck,
unsure whether he would survive the night.
Yet at the very next fire, he leaped to the ground,
alert as ever. They were too busy
to remark on the strangeness of it.
Fire after fire commanded their whole attention.
By the time dawn smudged the smoky sky with tired yellow light,
even the mutt was flagging. They carried him, blankets and all,
into the garage and settled him there. His thin tail
thumped in weary thanks against the floor.
The firemen were amazed to find
a naked man curled in the dog's nest,
perfectly whole except for the same ragged left ear,
smelling of smoke but not a hair singed.
They had seen strange things aplenty on Devil's night, though,
so they simply waited for him to awaken with an explanation.
The werewolf was amazed to find
a quietly attentive audience
surrounding him when he woke.
There were no pitchforks,
and certainly no torches.
So he explained how the moon's rule
had given way to the streetlights,
changing his shape just before dusk
and back again just after dawn.
In the plain light of day, he walked as a man;
by night's electric power, he ran on four legs.
He told them how the fire engine's siren
seemed to call to the wolf in him,
for no reason he could name in words,
but the firemen gave him grave nods of understanding.
If the other fire crews wondered why
the mutt-ugly mascot of Engine 18 wore a badge on his collar,
they kept it to themselves after seeing him work the firelit nights
and the next year,
on Devil's Night, the arsonists learned that
there are scarier things than police on Detroit streets
when they turned from their matches and gasoline cans
to face a low, rumbling growl.