Such thought—such thought have I that hold it tight…
W. B. Yeats, Oxford 1920
The Harlequin Circus comes back to Harlequin
each year for Halloween. The elephants,
the Flying Whistler Boys, some jugglers,
Madam Sosostris to read your palm to you,
Captain Mighty spouting mighty flames: all here
for one day only. They pitch a tent,
put on a show, we have a nice parade.
This Halloween in Harlequin the twins
will dress up as a circus clown. Ben will
be on bottom; Betsy up top, on his shoulders.
They’ve been practicing for weeks now,
I understand, so as not to fall.
Since the accident, Betsy can no longer walk;
Ben can’t be her legs forever, though.
Imagine you write a poem to find a subject
and all you find is this.
You write a poem to find a self and all you find is this one.
You are the gasp of air I can
only breathe one day a year. They say
you should have died instead of me.
They say I saved you on a narrow skid of road,
a clown in a town called Harlequin, a clown
for one performance only—
on a beach full of breath,
O my chevalier!—
Ben, you should only
blame God when you’re ready to blame yourself.
A daddy is like a god, and
this daddy, he blames and blames and blames
enough. It’s more than I can say.
Your mom tells me you cry to go to sleep.
Let me try to find the ground for you, okay?
Just be Betsy’s little man a little longer.
Just keep the ghosts away another year.
This Halloween, this All Saints All Souls Day
and Eve, I’ll walk beside them on parade,
Betsy and Ben. I’ll catch them if they topple,
I’ll try to hold each one’s hand.
Then like the one-day circus that I am
in the town of Harlequin, like
a clown made up of crippled kids, with crippled
I too will leave—
We’re all here to give just one performance.
We pitch a tent,
put on a show.
We have a nice parade.