The Year
All the Clowns
Were Executed
Many saw them taken away, crowded
in the wagons, chained together,
their oblong white faces peering
through the slats, eyebrows arched high
with bewilderment. All those joeys,
some were wearing cup-sized black
bowlers on their bald heads,
others topless top hats
resting on their ears, orange neckties
down to their knees. A few
blew on bubble pipes and pondered
the sky as the wagons bumped along.
One in baggy blue coat, a tin foil
star pinned to his chest, beat
the others repeatedly
with his billy club balloon.

Their painted tears
looked real.

Later, after the last wagon
had disappeared into the mountains,
that was a bad time for all merchants
selling floppy chartreuse satin pajamas
with big ball buttons, tent-sized
trousers of tartan plaid and purple
stripes. The Squirting Plastic
Flower Company and the Six-Inch Bicycle
Factory had to close shop completely.
Fox terriers, trained to wear
bonnets and ride in baby buggies,
lost their jobs. Soon the youngest
children couldn't remember a shivaree,
the parade of stunts, midget cars
or prancing piglets, the "walk-around"
on the Hippodrome track.

Then toward the end of that year,
visionaries began to appear, the first one
claiming to have seen the stiltman at dusk
striding in his gold metallic suit
through a copse of slender prairie
poplars in the shadowy evening sun,
another swearing to have witnessed
Petrolino himself wearing his pointed
hat topped with bells, ducking down
and popping up among the swaying
cattails, frightening all the blackbirds
in the most comical way. A third, watching
a distant field of autumn milkweed,
testified to seeing confetti
fly into the air from the old
empty-water-bucket gag.
Even a grandmother living alone
heard Grimaldi singing "An Oyster
Crossed in Love" beneath the scraping
branches outside her window
just before dawn.

But on a windy evening at midnight,
when a whole party of laughing people
together saw one of their favorites
stumbling on the sidewalk in the bluster,
tripping up the curb, reeling
against a trash can, somersaulting
again headfirst, sprawling
and pitching, taking his pratfalls
down the street like a blowing tangle
of open newspaper, then no one dared
deny any longer the truths
of spirits and souls, that bold new
rumor of resurrection.

--- From Firekeeper
Selected Poems

Pattiann Rogers
©2005 Milkweed Editions
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