Carnies–William Derge

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Buzzbombs, the Tiltawhirl,
little vehicles of love and terror just made for two.
Upside-down for half the ride,
tumbling like a clown’s loud laundry,
the change bailed out of his pockets.
When it was over, Conan the Carnie,
tattoos of Asian women lounging
within the contours of his ears,
ushered her smiling out of his neon bucket
and scooped up the boy’s money for beer
and packs of Lucky Strikes, which he rolled
between his Black Sabbath tee shirt and his muscle.

The boy thinks, All those dudes who were bad in school.
They all wind up here in the sleaze, telling
how just last week they’d been in Phoenix or Houston,
sleeping in trailers behind the sideshows of
tortured souls like The Lobsterman, who has pincers for hands,
big accidents of birth he cannot hide under his shirt,
where he hides his heart.

He remembers saying once,
while strapped inside a ride whose name he now forgets,
how sad it seemed to him,
the whole greasy world they inhabited.
Her giddy laugh whirled out into centrifugal emptiness.

That was the one big difference between them.
While he worried about the Lobsterman’s happiness
and state of soul, she wondered about how
he put out his smokes or pulled up his underwear
when it pinched his hips, or how he made love
to his wife without hurting her with his claws.

They were little soft polyps far out
on the spoke of a steel octopus.
How did she manage to elude his touch,
where the laws of motion all but ordered them to embrace?
Or were they of such opposing molecular stuff
that the dizzying circles of the cars
separated them into their elemental selves,
one with a wary eye looking inward for loose nuts
and bolts at every nauseating turn;
the other, out over the brilliant midway and down
to where a burly carnie arm played
with the handle of his private churn,
stopping and starting and slowing it down?


William Derge’s poems have appeared in Negative Capability, The Bridge, Artful Dodge, Bellingham Review, and many other publications. He is the winner of the $1,000 2010 Knightsbridge Prize judged by Donald Hall and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He is a winner of the Rainmaker Award judged by Marge Piercy. He has received honorable mentions in contests sponsored by The Bridge, Sow’s Ear, and New Millennium, among others. He has been awarded a grant by the Maryland State Arts Council.

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