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What Lurks Beneath the Makeup (sestina)
They’re herded in, flocks of children.
Shrieks of laughter accompanied by the rare cry,
overflowing into the billowing circus tent.
We clowns plaster cheery makeup on sallow cheeks
to disguise grimaces and swollen sores.
Mud soaks our bums as we crouch behind the elephant’s
legs. Their murderous voices scream “ELEPHANT!”
Her bulk trembles with pained reluctance. But the children
must be satisfied, so out she stomps while trapeze soar.
Across the ring a tiny boy begins to cry.
Frightened droplets are chased from his sockets and paint florid cheeks
the same startled red covering this tent.
Not everyone here can be content.
At a confetti cue, we burst onstage to help the elephant
bring cheers to the stuffed hamster cheeks
in the stands. Our puppet bodies twirl, we’re the children’s
marionettes. Because when the music stops we all cry.
Smiles ache, our bodies wrung and sore.
It’s supposed to be a place where dreams soar.
You wouldn’t guess that when the tent
deflates after every town, cries
echo throughout the circus members. Elephants
included. Happy colors fool on the children,
who don’t see past the masks on our cheeks.
The boy leaves his seat in the audience, his plump cheeks
raw. A canon blasts, causing fear to soar
into his eyes. He struggles to push past the other children,
escaping the chaos his obvious intent.
But the crowd is as thick and brutal as stampeding elephants.
He melts to his knees in surrender and cries.
But I’m not going to watch another soul cry.
With bruised palms I scoop his cheeks
from the ground and carry him gently to the elephant
pen. At once the weeping quiets. My spirits soar.
The exaggerated makeup highlights, not tents
the face I wear as I weave joy into the heartstrings of this child.
All traces of his crying are wiped clean by the grin that soars
up his cheeks. But eventually we must divide in the tent.
Me to the elephants and torment, him swallowed by the mob of fooled children.