If a Clown, by Stephen Dunn

10th October 2011

If a Clown by Stephen Dunn

If a clown came out of the woods,
a standard-looking clown with oversized
polka-dot clothes, floppy shoes,
a red, bulbous nose, and you saw him
on the edge of your property,
there’d be nothing funny about that,
would there? A bear might be preferable,
especially if black and berry-driven.
And if this clown began waving his hands
with those big white gloves
that clowns wear, and you realized
he wanted your attention, had something
apparently urgent to tell you,
would you pivot and run from him,
or stay put, as my friend did, who seemed
to understand here was a clown
who didn’t know where he was,
a clown without a context?
What could be sadder, my friend thought,
than a clown in need of a context?
If then the clown said to you
that he was on his way to a kid’s
birthday party, his car had broken down,
and he needed a ride, would you give
him one? Or would the connection
between the comic and the appalling,
as it pertained to clowns, be suddenly so clear
that you’d be paralyzed by it?
And if you were the clown, and my friend
hesitated, as he did, would you make
a sad face, and with an enormous finger
wipe away an imaginary tear? How far
would you trust your art? I can tell you
it worked. Most of the guests had gone
when my friend and the clown drove up,
and the family was angry. But the clown
twisted a balloon into the shape of a bird
and gave it to the kid, who smiled,
let it rise to the ceiling. If you were the kid,
the birthday boy, what from then on
would be your relationship with disappointment?
With joy? Whom would you blame or extoll?

(Sometimes, good stuff still comes via email. Thanks, Rosecrans.)

13 thoughts on “If a Clown, by Stephen Dunn

  1. Nora

    Once, when I was out walking the dogs on a remote hill, and realized I was being followed by a solemn-looking little boy. Of *course* I stopped to help him (his mom was just over the hill, and he’d lost track of her), but my first thought was, “Creepy kid! Run!!”

    My relationship with joy could probably use some work. Also, I need to stop watching scary movies.

  2. The Woman Formerly Known as Beautiful

    I have a sympathetic feel for clowns as I once played a bearded woman and didn’t have to wear a fake beard. They simply put mascara on my natural blonde face fuzz. Also, I am fond of wearing red noses, which you might see on my website. Hence I would certainly rescue said clown and would hope that the birthday boy gifted with the bird balloon would remember that disappointment can be survived and one can be happy again.

  3. Megan

    I second the thanks for blogging poems. An informal goal on my list is to make sure everyone I know has a favorite poem other than The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Not because it’s not great but because if that’s the last poem they remember reading in high school or college, they need to update their relationship with poetry. There’s so much great stuff out there.

  4. TRS

    @Megan – get people reading Famous Seamus, then they’ll quote at you in awful brogue, but at least it will be beautiful. My favorite poem is “Broagh” by Seamus Heaney.

  5. Megan

    @TRS Aw! Thanks for the Seamus recommendation. That particular one is new to me, and I’ll have to look it up. I’m stuck on A.E. Stallings lately. Thanks again to MM for space for an informal poetry exchange.

    Fear of Happiness

    Looking back, it’s something I’ve always had:
    As a kid, it was a glass-floored elevator
    I crouched at the bottom of, my eyes squinched tight,
    Or staircase whose gaps I was afraid I’d slip through,
    Though someone always said I’d be all right—
    Just don’t look down or See, it’s not so bad
    (The nothing rising underfoot). Then later
    The high-dive at the pool, the tree-house perch,
    Ferris wheels, balconies, cliffs, a penthouse view,
    The merest thought of airplanes. You can call
    It a fear of heights, a horror of the deep;
    But it isn’t the unfathomable fall
    That makes me giddy, makes my stomach lurch,
    It’s that the ledge itself invents the leap.

  6. Elise

    The Summer Day

    Who made the world?
    Who made the swan, and the black bear?
    Who made the grasshopper?
    This grasshopper, I mean–
    the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
    the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
    who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down,
    who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
    Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
    Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

    I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
    I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
    into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
    how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
    which is what I have been doing all day.
    Tell me, what else should I have done?
    Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
    Tell me, what is it you plan to do
    with your one wild and precious life?

    ~ Mary Oliver ~

    (New and Selected Poems, Volume I)

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