Poems from the Insomniac Circus
THE RINGMASTER ANSWERS THE PHONE
Your birthday in a month no one remembers:
cinderblock sky but no snow. It’s never
good news, this time of night – someone dead
or arrested or worse: drunk & in the mood to reminisce.
Your bedroom smells like feet & cat food –
your life this time of year stalled:
flickering paused image, impatient twitch.
They say sharks must keep moving or die,
but it turns out that’s not true – one of those things
we believe because we like the sound of it,
because sometimes we feel like that, unable
to be still, to rest, to sit in silence
like the stem of a flower gathering dew
in these final moments before dawn,
when old friends or old flames
spark so briefly to light: sudden tiny flare,
awkward intoxicated conversation
like rowing across a lake with your hands.
Your whole life is a series
of the moments just before other moments –
when what could go right
& what could go wrong
hold hands & drown together in the dark air.
THE BAREBACK RIDER GETS DRESSED AFTER A NIGHT OF HORSING AROUND WITH A TOWNIE
Valley of lost hours, these daybreaks –
long walk from one place that is not home
to another. All those buckles & snaps,
unending quest for the unbuttoned life.
Shoes untied, or no shoes at all,
dew on flesh – hummingbird in field of clover.
The fat man snores & farts, oblivious
to her leaving, his buttocks exposed,
unpleasant in this light & she wonders
not for the first time whether regret
is an obligation. Whether someone else
would feel differently – feel something,
feel a sum greater than all these nights,
their sad total. But she is not sad,
which is not to suggest she is happy,
but somewhere else, no danger
in this unstrange land where water
flirts with shore & river never stops,
a kind of music she can’t quite hear,
animal who will not be tamed but agrees
to pretend because it’s simpler that way.
Young enough to know better,
she sees where light slips through cracks,
this widening chasm between hunger
& escape. The best thing in her life
is this headpiece. She holds it with both hands,
careful not to crush the peacock feathers,
iridescent & impossible in the morning sun.
THE FIRE-EATER GETS ALL HOT AND BOTHERED
These twisted sheets, mangled syllables,
swamp of sweat & memory – it’s a curse,
false promise of an autotelic life.
In all honesty we make our own way,
these days & nights of shining ardor
withstand fiercest assault,
this peppering of small insults,
but there’s always a vulnerability:
gap in wall, seam, stress fracture,
breaking point. Steam
builds. Trust senses
but not instincts, taste what I can,
touch everything, feel nothing.
Tongue the flame, drink
& drink: the slur & smear
of things I’d prefer to forget.
Numbness, scar tissue, nerve endings –
they say they’re seeking something new
but that’s not true either.
Wax slowmelts & drips,
thighs flex: the body’s strongest muscle
& everyone knows what’s weakest.
The flames that burn
are the ones I never see,
once I swallow their secrets
it’s too late. Fairy tales hide
what hides after the ever after –
when I think about you
I crush myself.
THE GUY WHO WALKS BEHIND THE ELEPHANTS WITH A BIG SHOVEL
FINDS HIMSELF IN A WORLD OF SHIT
In a temporary kitchen that smells of old meat & rotten pears,
sweet like that, time to decide what happens next –
supernova or black hole, we’re all friends here,
no one likes this part but it comes with the territory,
mess with bull, get thorns, every rose has its horn, etc.
Revenge is a fool’s haircut. As soon as the cards hit the felt
you knew how this would end, only one conclusion
worth talking about, nothing out of bounds,
the small sounds of sleep & sand gnats snacking
on your tattoos. This is the way insomniacs dream,
the world exactly as it seemed when you were eleven
& everything started seeping out from under
all those closed doors. Anticipation
is the only drug. The house always wins
& your ex-wife will always sleep with you again
if you ask nicely. The whole concept is insane –
implode, explode, you can export only so much dung
before it invades your own tidy borders,
an unpleasant topic but everyone knows it’s there,
trouble looks better from inside a rainbow jumpsuit.
Scrub all you want, make the same promises,
dig & dig & dig until your palms bleed.
You always knew the price of sawdust
goes up in the summer. At last you see why.
Amorak Huey left the newspaper business recently, after 15 years as a reporter and editor, to teach writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Rattle, Oxford American, Contrary, PANK, Crab Orchard Review and elsewhere. Find out what his name means at his blog.
Poems from the Insomniac Circus