Tag Archives: circus

national poetry month, day 28.

Shana found this beautiful disturbance for me on The Nervous Breakdown.

by Lauren Wheeler
For a nickel, you can take a picture of me
standing just so in front of a wooden board
with a heart painted on it.
For a dime, you can take a picture with me,
you squatting behind and peeking through
like I’m one of those cardboard cutouts
of an “Indian Chief” or a unicorn or some other
supposedly mythical creature.
When you offer a quarter, we move to the tent,
dim-lit and dusty, where I sit on the low
quilt-covered pot and pat the space beside me.
You are nervous. “Will it hurt you?”
I shake my head. “It never hurts. Not anymore.”
Then I take your hand and guide up towards
the hole in my chest. You tremble for a second
as you reach through me, wiggle your fingers
around behind my back, disbelieving.
“Where is your heart?” you ask.
“How do you live without your heart?”
I take your hand again, kiss it.
“It’s amazing the things you can learn 
to live without.”

and now for something completely different

I spent most of the day yesterday at a memorial service for clowns. Here’s what happened. In 1918, a train wreck in Hammond, Indiana killed 86 people and injured many more when an engineer fell asleep and ran his train into a stopped circus train which housed the traveling Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus. Most of the people killed were circus performers and roustabouts. The victims of the crash are buried at Showman’s Rest in Woodlawn Cemetery in Lake Forest, IL. For the past several years, local chapters of clown guilds have gathered once a year to hold a memorial service and performance in their honor. Shana heard about this from a friend and got a group of people together to go and see the spectacle. I couldn’t resist.

Almost everyone I know is afraid of clowns. I’m not; they’re not my favorite part of the circus, and I think they’re a little creepy, but they don’t actually make me nervous. However, even I was uneasy a couple of times at this event. It felt so oddly voyeuristic to be there, watching what was essentially mourning for a very insular group of people. And yet, the voyeurism was encouraged and our attention was sought after with performances and prizes and trivia games – there was an actual program for about an hour and fifteen minutes, leading up to a procession of clowns laying flowers on the Showman’s Rest memorial.

The opening procession.

The world’s most adorable dog, apparently a mix of corgi and golden retriever. He turned out to be part of the show and is named Jelly.

Clowns were handing out goodies, including smiley face stickers and plastic cockroaches. Colleen was thrilled with her plastic bug, and less excited when she saw some real ants.

Man, wearing a white clown mouth.
The hat had a Minnie Pearl tag on it.

There’s something profoundly disturbing about a clown practicing his act in a graveyard.

I got bored after a while and lay down for a nap, earning myself a sunburn in the process.

Working out the details on the giant clown glasses.

The primary source of my discomfort. (He’s the one who was handing out cockroaches, naturally.) At one point, I was taking pictures of the show, and he walked right in front of us – about six inches away. I didn’t see him coming, and I think I stopped breathing for a second. I’d been trying to get a good picture of him for a while, and I think he’d noticed and was trying to unsettle us on purpose. It worked.

A curious memorial marker, the only one of its kind in the cemetery. I couldn’t make out what it said, but it seemed to be some kind of indicator for a section of Showman’s Rest.