Notre histoire sinister

By Michael Joyce

Here is our lurid history, the days that were before us once
have slipped behind now and press against us as in a crowd
stumbling from the circus. The circus again! How it haunts
their memories, the afternoon at the Tibetan resto juste en face
where the young clown reminisced about life as a dominatrix
in San Francisco and how gentle it all was finally, her smile
truly angelic, framed in a corona of spun gold hair, le coiff’
paillé, soft, vaguely leonine, the archangel with golden hair
at Petersburg perhaps or Raphael’s lost “Portrait of a Boy”
pillaged by the Nazis from the Musée Czartoryski. This she
recognizes in herself, how in the snapshot from her troupe
she had them guess which one she was, eyes giving her away:
the boy in the pale blue jumper, a play upon Pierrot, fey,
younger, at that age where gender is permeable, apt to slip
hermaphroditic back to girlish, qualis ab incepto processerit
et sibi constet, as Horace had it, i.e., let him stay what he was
at first, but what that was hardly any of us can remember.
And now the children come pouring out from the matinée
into rue Amelot as dans le coin de la salle the three of them
whisper softly lost in each other over tea and dumplings

Michael Joyce’s fifteen books and several digital works—most recently the poems “Light in its Common Place,” from Broadstone Books, 2020—span a career as novelist, poet, critic, theorist, digital literature pioneer, and multimedia artist. They can be found at

Originally appeared in NOR 2

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