Monday, December 10, 2012

Tuesday Poem: previously published by Feminist Studies in 1999, and in The Paterson Literary Review in 2005

The Circus Comes To Paterson

Once they set up Clyde Beatty’s Big Top
at the foot of Sandy Hill, in the empty lot
where projects used to rise in long barracks rows,
housing the soldiers and their wives after the war,
and then struggling families like mine,
until they finally knocked them down,
flattened them like furrows
ploughed up for just a few seasons
to give us all a chance to sow a future.

And there it was: our future,
in a house, with an alleyway and a garden,
on Summer Street, ripeness setting in, I guess,
because when the circus came
our parents were giddy too,
as we joined the crowd in the bleachers,
sitting in the backs of flat beds,
and pulled in a circle
like a wagon train at chow time.

And we were just like pioneers sitting there,
doing something we’d never done,
a circus right in our living room,
that’s what it felt like
until the elephants came out
and no more than five minutes into the act
one of them broke ranks,
dragging the trainer with her,
the poor guy dangling like an earring
from the hook he held to the side of her head.

That elephant’s berserk!, someone screamed,
and we screamed too when she charged at the trucks,
as people fled up the seats and dropped off the back.
We were paralyzed, which turned out to be all right
because she wasn’t interested in us at all,
she was more intent on the freedom she saw
through an opening in the canvas
and was gone before we had that figured out.

The rest is hearsay.
Stories about her lurking behind the drugstore,
so that Doc nearly had a heart attack,
when he went to see why his dog 
was barking so loud, of how 
she wedged herself between 
the shoemaker’s house and garage,
bending the aluminum siding, 
as she eased back out, how she reared up 
and stamped a footprint in the sidewalk,
before turning tail and running past our house,
so Ralph next door thought he was 
going crazy, when he looked up 
from the paper, and she flew by 
like a bat out of hell.

They caught her way up high on the hill,
locked her in the back of a tractor trailer,
but the circus that day was done for,
there was no going back.
They worked her too hard
my mother said to my Dad.
This is what happens .

Meanwhile I stroked the garage’s new curved edges
where her anger had made its mark,
watching the girls take turns
stamping the sidewalk as hard as they could
inside the ring of her footprint.   

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