29 May 2009

B. H. Fairchild

[from B. H. Fairchild's Usher, Norton, 2009]

Frieda Pushnik

             "Little Frieda Pushnik, the Armless, Legless Girl
             Wonder," who spent years as a touring attraction
             for Ripley's Believe It or Not and Ringling Brothers
             and Barnum and Bailey . . .

                         -- "Obituaries," Los Angeles Times

These are the faces I love. Adrift with wonder,
big-eyed as infants and famished for that strangeness
in the world they haven't known since early childhood,
they are monsters of innocence who gladly shoulder
the burden of the blessed, the unbroken, the beautiful,
the lost. They should be walking on their lovely knees
like pilgrims to that shrine in Guadelupe, where
I failed to draw a crowd. I might even be their weird
little saint, though God knows I've wanted everything
they've wanted,
and more, of course. When we toured Texas,
west from San Antonio, those tiny cow towns flung
like pearls from the broken necklace of the Rio Grande,
I looked out on a near-infinity of rangeland
and far blue mountains, avatars of emptiness,
minor gods of that vast and impossible pure nothing
to whom I spoke my little stillborn, ritual prayer.
I'm not on those posters they paste all over town,
those silent orgies of secondary colors -- jade,
burnt orange, purple -- each one a shrieking anthem
to the exotic: Bengal tigers, ubiquitous
as alley cats, raw with not inhuman but
superhuman beauty, demonic spider monkeys,
absurdly buxom dancers clad in gossamer,
and spiritual gray elephants, trunks raised like arms
to Allah. Franciscan murals of plentiude,
brute vitality ripe with the fruit of eros,
the faint blush of sin, and I am not there. Rather,
my role is the unadvertised, secret, wholly
unexpected thrill you find within. A discovery.
Irresistible, like sex.
                               So here I am. The crowd
leaks in -- halting, unsure, a bit like mourners
at a funeral but without the grief. And there is
always something damp, interior, and, well,
sticky about them, cotton-candy souls that smear
the bad air, funky, bleak. All, quite forgettable,
except for three. A woman, middle-aged, plain
and unwrinkled as her Salvation Army uniform,
bland as oatmeal but with this heavy, leaden sorrow
pulling at her eyelids and the corners of her mouth.
Front row four times, weeping, weeping constantly,
then looking up, lips moving in a silent prayer,
I think, and blotting tears with a kind of practiced,
automatic movement somehow suggesting that
the sorrow is her own and I'm her mirror now,
the little well of suffering from which she drinks.
A minister once told me to embrace my sorrow.
To hell with that, I said, embrace your own. And then
there was that nice young woman, Arbus, who came and talked,
talked brilliantly, took hours setting up the shot,
then said, I'm very sorry, and just walked away.
The way the sunlight plunges through the opening
at the top around the center tent pole like a spotlight
cutting through the smutty air, and it fell on him,
the third, a boy of maybe sixteen, hardly grown,
sitting in the fourth row, not too far but not too close,
red hair flaring numinous, ears big as hands,
gray eyes that nailed themselves to mine. My mother,
I remember, looked at me that way. And a smile
not quite a smile. He came twice. And that second time,
just before I thanked the crowd, I'm so glad you could
drop by, please tell your friends,
his hand rose -- floated,
really -- to his chest. It was a wave. The slightest,
shyest wave good-bye, hello (and what's the difference,
anyway) as if he knew me, truly knew me, as if,
someday, he might return. His eyes. His hair, as vivid
as the howdahs on those elephants. In the posters
where I'm not. That day the crowd seemed to slither out,
to ooze, I thought, like reptiles -- sluggish, sleek, gut-hungry
for the pleasures of the world, the prize, the magic number,
the winning shot, the doll from the rifle booth, the girl
he gives it to, the snow cone dripping, the popcorn dyed
with all the colors of the rainbow, the rainbow, the sky
it crowns, and whatever lies beyond, the One, perhaps,
we're told, enthroned there who in love or rage or spasm
of inscrutable desire made that teeming, oozing,
devouring throng borne now into the midway's sunlight,
that vanished, forever silent God to whom I say
again my little prayer, let me be one of them.

Buy B. H. Fairchild's book @ Amazon

No comments:

Post a Comment