Semi-shrouded behind the tent, and they linger like flies, a half-circle of a handful of clowns, chit-chatting and spitting bits of their red painted lips on the mud-worn ground, nothing like the movie image of their crazed chuckles, defiled teeth, poison-squirt flowers and rusted mini-tricycles squeaking from house to house, snuffing little boys every night before sleep. These weren’t the colorful demons feeding off our flesh, or the fools who jumped, smacked, and piggybacked till cartoon stars sprinkled in the air, but merely men yanking off their wigs, ‘shooting the shit’ like Pa and his boys on Sunday afternoons. Like the way I’d watch my father spew spit and speech inside his old spittoon, I watched these seasonal entertainers smoke and swear, jaw about anything not about the show, because the show was nothing fancy to jaw about, more a reason for me to sneak out, see the act behind the act, the life that makes the life on stage seem like the life they always live, a sense that their painted faces are never taken off, that when they’re off the clock, they go back to being the backyard clowns hired for magic tricks, the famed harlequins of European descent, or the master hobo, tramp, and bums juggling what can’t be juggled by anyone else but them. Which is why when I sneak back in, I don’t mind no attention to the net-less tightrope walkers, the scent of elephant manure, the fire-breathing sword-swallowers, or the glittery ringmaster shouting that we should all be prepared, now that I’ve witnessed the performance of non-performance, the art of intermission, the echo of their human laughs I have no reason not to trust, this newfound feeling that as they taunt the focused tiger-tamers, stop and bow, I’m the only one amongst the crowd with the right to applaud like a shill.
Esteban Rodríguez holds an MFA from the University of Texas Pan-American, and works as an elementary reading and writing tutor in the Rio Grande Valley, promoting both English and Spanish literacy. His poetry is forthcoming in The Los Angeles Review, storySouth, The Country Dog Review, and Huizache. He lives in Weslaco, Texas.