Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Walter Bargen: Circus Coil

When I think of blood I think of you that night,

not because you dodged a bullet and nothing so easy

as sidestepping an office intrigue or petty paternity suit

over puppies, but when you lurched forward as if you were shot

then crumpled in that way that suggested an unexpected end,

falling backwards from the edge of the stage, twisting deep

into that mortal coil that tightens with each passing day,

but especially this day, the audience certain

that this must be part of the performance,

and before they can blink to clear their vision,

a circus of clowns with their seltzer bottles and balloons,

horns and Ping-Pong ball noses, pack into a too small

polka-dotted car, driving out of the big tent

in a maelstrom of honking, through the odor

of elephant dung and lion’s decaying breath,

and blinding belch of exhaust, the gag finished

except for you to roll down the short flight

of carpeted steps into the awed silence of 900 people,

more surprised than you. They did not hear

a bullet singing over their heads, or see an assassin

headed for the exit crowded with clowns.


You half-lay, half-leaned on the bottom step,

your glib ending in an ungainly perch,

there to unfold slowly the parts that gravity

harshly claimed, and you left to reestablish an order

and what little of that can be found as you pick up

your face that the audience can see,

glasses bent like a wishbone about to break

on the wrong side of this-didn’t-happen,

blood flowing too freely, anemic as that free

gas-station coffee from earlier in the day,

an open spigot from the corner of your right eye,

as if your vision turned sanguine, turned back to history,

battlefields littered with parts of your warring body,

Verdun and Anzio intimate as any lover, jungle ambush,

and minefield your calling, a red ribbon festooned

down your cheek, shocking the shock of your white hair

and beard into realms of a red mist, as if the front

of this stage was now heaven, the emergency room

only a quick stop along the way.


But the clowns with their lifeboat-sized shoes

didn’t arrive in time to set up the scene,

their slapstick props nowhere to be seen,

and they never intended to make you the punch line,

leaving you as the day’s target, sight’s aligned,

adjusting the scope, taking all the practice shots

needed to be dead-on dead pan, at least just enough

to break your radius, leave you slinged and out of reach,

beyond your own grasp, halving the diameter

of your days in the ever-tightening circumference,

sure the assassin is somewhere in the audience

still deciding if you are a worthy target.


  ─for David Clewell

Copyright 2016 Walter Bargen

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This entry was posted on October 18, 2016 by in Poetry and tagged , .
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