V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics





            July 6, 1944, Hartford, CT
            Ringling Brothers circus tent burns down

"He arrived on fire—he was fire,
a slow moving flame unfurled
like the burst of fern.  It begins as a sharp
point and peels downwards, revealing
his fire face. He tempts me, makes
flick-flick noises, snaps his flint fingers.
I don't have a name for him, devilman,
fire eater.  He's pointy, like a compass,
walks on dagger feet: part horse, part machine.
Nothing scares him—walks past caged lions
and panthers and purrs like the low
moan of an engine.  To him,
fire is flowers: the blue base, red tips,
teardrop shape.
                         Next I know,
I'm leaning into the tent, burning
my fingertips with matchsticks,
each small flame (and the show begins,
band strikes) like a new bud.
It's the tightrope act, and all eyes are up,
so the flame grows unnoticed.
In ten minutes, the whole tent
looks like a beached jellyfish,
transparent, beating, strings and poison
streaming from its middle.  Ten minutes,
and fire man is inside everyone, and they're
coughing him up, spitting him on the ground.
I've killed since I was six—but this?
This wasn't me, for the record, this one was his,
this garden of fire, this burning ocean."


© by Jeanine DeRusha


Contributor's note
Next page
Table of contents
VPR home page

[Best read with browser font preferences set at 12 pt. Times New Roman]