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At the Sideshow

by David Hill

It was this strange documentary,
“History of the Sideshow,”
that sent me on a time travel…

How our young minds craved adventure and knowledge,
particularly of the grotesque.

Rat Fink, Hammer Films, Dr. Shock, George the Animal Steele,
these were our high art, and we studied their nuances like scholars.

In a darkened time before vans,
this beehive crowned van mom shuttled us
in her fake-wood-panel Ford wagon
to the St. Francis Fair at Tullytown.

Juiced on high-octane youth,
six excited boys set loose,
free at last from the shackles
of adult supervision.

Because the rides made him sick,
we left Joe at the nickel pitch.
(At evening’s end, we would find him
proudly carrying a box of mismatched dishes,
corncob kernels lodged in his teeth.)

Darting through the midway,
the sizzle and snaking vapor of Italian sausage sandwiches
assaults my senses, so I shift $2 to my left pocket for later.

Past the Tilt-A-Whirl, the Skydiver, the Tarantula.
A Carney swabs soupy white up-chuck with a dripping string mop
while a white faced rider stumbles away.

The Breed, the local biker gang,
sleeveless and tattooed,
foul mouthed monkey men with their braless mates
part the throng with drunken Stormtrooper swagger.
We travel safe below their radar. Only the
money takers pay us any mind.

“See the queerest sights…”
barks the Charles Manson ticket taker
his evil eye upon us.

Inside the olive drab tent
the canvas splotched with water stains, grease spots
the sweltering air is close, thickened in must-flavored stench
that permeates our hair, clothes, and skin.

Ropes strung between posts
form barriers strong as prison bars,
Before each exhibit, we stand in silence, reverence,
better behaved than at any church service.

Formaldehyde pickled babies,
white rubber deformities in big cloudy jars.
In one, an umbilical chord suspends like sea grass.
(could this have been me?)

The two-headed cow turns out a fraud,
stuffed, the extra head clumsily stitched
to the neck.

“Found in the Okefenokee Swamp”
The Frog Boy
squats on a table sawed to the shape of a lily pad.
His skin so black it’s raven hue blue,
undeveloped mantis arms hang beneath his chin,
bony branch ankles and calves connect to thick stump thighs
and long thin boned toes spread and connect by membranes.
Big yellow eyeballs roll back in his head, shift side-to-side,
a wide, thick lipped, grinning mouth.
“I eats bugs,” he Sachmo rasps, follows with a tongue flick,
then a menacing, “He-He-He.”

“From the Corn Fields of Kansas”
The Half Man is little more than a stump,
dinner plate ears frame a round farmer face,
one working arm, the other a few fingers flapping from a shoulder.
“Don’t you have legs?” asks an older boy.
He unzips a side panel in his custom blue bib overalls
and out pop five gnarl nailed wrigglers.
“I can bend my leg to touch my ear,”
and sure enough, he does, grinning
as though it were clever.

Such strangeness.
Such strangeness leaves its mark
on a boy, on a man.
I wonder what it tells me
of nature, God, and me.

The documentary concluded
that we now live in enlightened times.
Do-gooders have done their deeds, praise be,
ended these offenses to our fine sensibilities.

Today, there’s no stage for a Frog Boy,
no job for a Half Man.


Author's Note: A surfer's cross, bleeding madras, Sam the Sham growling "Little Red Riding Hood," Soupy Sales, a super ball, I remember it all... How I despise my own sentimentality.

Posted on 01/17/2005
Copyright © 2024 David Hill

Member Comments on this Poem
Posted by Max Bouillet on 01/20/05 at 01:06 AM

Trip back into youth with the sights and smells that I hold so close to my heart... especially that Italian Sausage! Tremendous imagery that really clutches the reader's attention. A narrative style that really tells a tale. Great read.

Posted by Gregory O'Neill on 10/06/06 at 04:50 AM

Enjoyed your writing here. Thanks for the read.

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