June 22, 2012
Who needs a circus when slime molds sent
Butterscotch veins through the rotten stump
In the backyard? One giant cell
Swimming with nuclei undivided by walls,
As I learned from National Geographic. Summer
Was a slime mold, and I feathered out
From the edges to escape boredom.
I only remember the audience on the other side.
They had little lights on cords
That they spun around. This was part of my first circus.
The audience was supposed to be part of it. Not me.
I was too young to be given a little light.
I must have been too young
To follow any of what was going on.
Were there sideshows, displays of freaks?
Let’s say there were.
At home I had a gift
From a woman who lived in Florida:
An octopus that squinted forever in formaldehyde.
It was twisting its tentacles to fit
The shape of the mayonnaise jar when it died.
Who needs a circus when we had mud daubers
Ratcheting their oil slick wings
In the driveway where the gravel had worn away?
At the end of summer we could
Smash their adobe tubes and set free
The corpses of spiders. Getting matches
Was too, or at least was until
Our supply of blue-tipped strike-anywheres
In the neighbor’s garage was exhausted. He never
Caught on as far as I know. My best friend
And I would talk to him
When he came home from work. He stood
Over us seemingly a mile tall, taller
Than either of our fathers, and said,
I know I had some matches around here.
He was single, mostly lived alone, left his basement
Open all the time so his dogs could fend
For themselves when he disappeared in his boat
On long sailing trips. My best friend
And I knew the interior of that basement better
Than he did, and we thanked
Him for being an absentee packrat.
At any time we needed we could lay our hands on
A flashlight, a Harpo Marx horn, newspapers,
Puppies, an artificial tree, a rattlesnake bite kit,
Fifteen wrenches, or an old sailing ship
Carved in relief on lacquered wood
And sailing forever on a sea of dust.
Who needs a circus when I could see Mickey Mouse
Chopping a broom into pieces so
Like a starfish it grew into
An army of brooms carrying buckets of water?
Fantasia was re-released, but before VCRs
It was worth going. I found
A cigarette lighter on the sidewalk
Outside. My mother told me to throw it away.
I pulled the little metal wheel at the top and made
A spark, but no flame.
The lighter was dry
And disposable, no room for a refill. I secretly
Slipped it like an amber jewel into my pocket.
In the dark of my room the spark lit only itself.
It may still be there.
An elephant was hanged in Tennessee. That was
Before I came along. Who needs a circus
When they could attend a big death for free?
Mary lifted her trainer and cracked his head as easily
As one of the cantaloupes she’d been reaching for.
The law could not be circumvented.
We must have travelled by where it happened,
Between the railroad and the highway on one of our trips
East for a relative’s wedding or funeral or some
Other reunion. Who knows why we went? The lines
Along the side of the road were abstract animation,
Designs that were changing and changed like flipping
Through a book of pictures, each only slightly different.
Who needs a circus when the hotel
Came complete with an indoor pool?
I needed goggles; the chlorine
Burned my eyes. And don’t look directly at the lights
Of the tanning bed. And the slick red brick
Walkways aren’t safe for running. I slipped
Over into an underworld clear through tinted green.
That wasn’t the summer we went to Maine,
But maybe the summer after
When I tried to relive the places we visited there:
I built aquaria out of boxes, and paper scallops
Red as magic markers could make
Fled on strings from starfish so thick with glitter
And glue their blue arms were radiant as ice cream.
When the leaves started to fall
I noticed the little shack on the hill
Off in the distance where new condominiums
Were being built. Who needs a circus
When the tree in the front yard
Swarmed with ladybugs
With their yellow-flecked larvae
On the trunk? I put a handful
In a jar and put it on my nightstand.
They formed their tiny accordion cocoons
And twenty-four hours later a spectacular
Explosion threw a new generation against the glass.
It was too cold for them outside,
But they had no other place to go.
Who needs a circus when June bugs
Climbed up the panty-hose trunk
Of my Aunt Lena’s leg? She didn’t even notice.
She was too busy heading for the most fragile
Piece of furniture in the house: the antique
Rocking chair barely wide enough to hold her.
Rabbit-faced Uncle Rupert disappeared
Into the folds of the overstuffed couch.
When the chair split underneath
Her Aunt Lena had to be helped up by
My grandfather and father. Afterward they both
Rebuilt the chair, reinforced the seat
With a steel plate, but even after that
My grandfather sidestepped Aunt Lena
Whenever she came to visit and made sure
He sat in that chair himself. The chair
Must still be around with a steel plate like a veteran
Of the Battle of the Bulge.
I remember now, though I don’t know why,
That we left the circus early.
I wonder what I missed.