Carnival Nocturne

By Mark Wagenaar

Peanut shells crackle beneath your pink slippers
as you pace. The players behind routines of a different sort
long after the show is over, long after the spectators
return home, their caricatures slipping from their grasp
as they unlock the front door. Teeny the strongman
is calling the torn names in the phone book
he ripped in half, as Vasserot listens outside, smoking
a cigarette with his left foot, his arms a phantom
presence he feels each time he reaches for another can
of peaches. Karlov the Great has gone to bed


regretting his dinner, three light bulbs & a seven-foot
feathered boa, while in the next room Madame Sossman
is about to win a red nose & a pair of floppy shoes,
unless Noodles can beat three Hangmans.
Monsieur LeBeau stands in the big tent, still listening
to the cheers of the departed crowd. His daughter
won’t return his phone calls, but tomorrow
will bring a new town, with a different name & story,
where anything is possible, & tonight the stars’ white flames
burn on their blue wicks – she’s out there, somewhere,
the one you left behind on the Serengeti, in the night
that paces in a circle with its one black shoe, beneath wires
no one will ever see, the sickle moon’s ivory
as beautiful as your tusks once were.


Mark Wagenaar is the author of three award-winning poetry collections, most recently the Saltman Prize-winning “Southern Tongues Leave Us Shining,” from Red Hen Press. His fiction and poetry appear widely, including the New Yorker, Tin House, the Southern Review, Gulf Coast, the Cincinnati Review, and River Styx, among many others. He is the husband of poet Chelsea Wagenaar.

Originally appeared in NOR 8.

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