My heart is a circus
whose entrance is emblazoned with bulbs,
bright or burned out.
Every clown is oddly familiar.
The shooting gallery and the coin toss
may be rigged. The lion tamer,
whose moustache resembles my father's,
makes the beasts rise up and dance.
The elephants, their hide
like dusty leather-bound books,
link trunks and tails through habit
or resignation. Under the big top,
I put on a death-defying act,
leaping from the trapeze without a net.
The bored populace prefers
the garish display of the freak show
where a man hammers through his tongue
and Zenobia caresses serpents with a look
that could pass for love.
The two-headed baby in the jar
stares at me like a punishment.
In the wee hours,
everything empties out,
the stunned animals sleep,
the new moon is shrouded with clouds.
Kate Deimling translates books from French on topics including the wine industry, fashion, and Renaissance art. She has a Ph.D. in French literature from Columbia University and previously worked as a professor and an art journalist. A native New Orleanian, she lives in Brooklyn with her family. She has recently returned to writing poetry. Her website is katedeimling.com.
Statement by Featured Artist, Shelley Thomas: I’m drawn to the poem’s juxtaposition of the world perceived by the audience and the world of those who live under the big top. There is something of the spectacle, something garish, hard, and glaring in the descriptions of beasts and entertainers. A crude consumption. The performances are lurid and gaudy, but at the core resigned and empty. There is a sense of loneliness. I imagine broken bits and body parts. Masks. Things of value cast off or unappreciated. I’ve paired this poem with a photograph of a Victorian-era Frozen Charlotte doll head. Its eyes are blank and staring. The face is open but without expression. A fascinating history surround these morbid little treasures.
Art: “Untitled,” 2018 (‘Secret Beach’ Lake Ontario, Canada)