by William James
One night I laid down to rest & somehow forgot
everything. I left the television on but nothing was
broadcasting. The screen filled with snowflakes,
moths, a polar bear dancing on a white unicycle.
I turned on the radio & a sad, sad song was playing.
The bear stopped dancing & began to weep.
Her eyes caked with mud & honey. She told me
the song reminded her of her grandmother who had
run away when she was young to join the circus.
She paid her way by juggling plums & pomegranates
the size of small animals, taught herself to count to forty-two
en francais. Children would beg their parents for coins
so they could feed her—marshmallows & apple cores,
bits of dried corn & flowers. Sometimes boys who felt
particularly cruel threw hard walnuts, still in their shell,
aiming at rings of fur that grew around the bear’s left eye.
Step right up, step right up! the ringmaster would cry
as the tent grew dim, the spotlights washing red & orange
over the murmuring crowd like a late summer storm.
A sad clown played waltzes on a broken organ & sounded
like a funeral choir. One by one, the audience would file past.
Each paying customer was given one half of a pair
of rusty pliers & told to find their match. For a nickel
they could try to pull out one of the bear’s teeth
for a souvenir. The fashion-conscious wrapped their teeth
in copper wire, wore them on a silver chain around their necks.
Old men would stuff them in pockets filled with tissue paper
& forget them, along with menthol cough drops,
short, flat pencils with broken tips. The teeth, still wet
& sticky with blood, would clatter together like a rattle-
snake symphony. Everyone was afraid of everyone
& nobody knew why. The next morning, I woke up
& the moon was still alive. It grew bigger & bigger.
It filled up the entire sky.