If we don't read one another
    who do we ever read
    and if we don't read one another
    who can we expect to read us?
    and if we don't read one another
    and if we don't read
    why bother writing
    these lines so deep in our faces
    that take so much living
    to begin to make a dent
    the child's dimple a tiny word
    the frown of a young adult
    a curse and the sags the scars
    by forty a couplet
    by fifty or sixty scarce a sonnet
    even by ninety and a hundred
    the tale told rarely an epic
    but always
    always worth another look


    Reminds me of the worst circus I ever saw
    the Bigleoni in Saint Louis
    with only a couple talents in the show
    to spin dishes juggle sway on the trapeze
    and dash backstage to change their names and clothes
    while the mushmouth ringmaster blathers
    and one thin clown squirts us and pops balloons
    and my kids hatch some monster bellyaches
    on cotton candy peanuts and the like
    and start pulling big stage yawns
    at which point it's way past time to go

    when there's a fanfare and out stumbles
    this pudgy little guy
    in a red cape and tight tights
    and a couple days' growth a whisker
    looking a bit irate
    like he just woke up with a porcupine
    and none too pleased at the thin crowd
    as he climbs to the highwire
    through a brassy offkey flourish

    and who knows what he's thinking
    maybe about his shrunken underwear
    but the spotlight wobbles up
    and steadies and he's on

    and the kids stop groaning a minute
    as he fires up a motorcycle
    that smokes and stutters badly
    painted all the same red as his clothes
    and I think there's nothing to this
    fool running rims on a tightrope
    and instead of handlebars
    a twenty-five foot balance pole
    and I'm tired as he is calling this a show

    when he shoves off
    and gets halfway out there
    and the stuttering little red thing up and dies

    and there he is
    sixty feet off a cement floor
    with a flimsy little net
    he could break right through
    with all this extra weight

    astraddle the problem
    in a skintight devil suit
    onstage and no getting back
    out where it's put up or shut up

    at first they try to bluff it through
    the band gives him a ragged buildup
    and all three spotlights search him out

    until we see the sweat begin to pop
    as he fiddles with the gas and choke
    and finally waves them off

    and my palms are itching and burning
    my throat bone dry
    as he rises on his toes
    and swings his weight down
    to kickstart it
    and it sulks and coughs
    and the pole wows like a monster bowtie
    and he wobbles and practically dives off
    this teeny thing he never gave a damn about

    and twice it catches twice it dies
    in dead silence
    even the peanut vendors still for once
    then his face lets go the anger
    and gets wondering and round
    as he puzzles through it
    and on the third try coaxes
    it to hang on for a minute

    and as he revs and warms it
    in no hurry now
    he scans us all from way up there
    and so help me I can see
    the scowl climb back aboard him

    and burn the clutch
    and ride the twenty feet or so

    then slide down the rope exhausted
    and stomp off not even bowing
    to our feverish applause

Paul Hunter
published in the Beloit Poetry Journal
vol. 39, no. 4 (Summer 1989), 2-4.


 Paul Hunter has been poet, teacher, performer, playwright, musician, instrument-maker, artist, editor, publisher, grassroots arts activist and shade-tree mechanic. For the past eleven years he has produced fine letterpress books under the imprint of Wood Works—currently including 22 books and 46 broadsides. His poems have appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, Bloomsbury Review, Iowa Review, North American Review, Poetry, Poetry Northwest, and Raven Chronicles and as well as in three full-length books and several chapbooks. Recipient of the 1998 Pym Cup and the 1999 Nelson Bentley Award, he lives and works in Seattle. His full-length collection of farming poems, Breaking Ground, from Silverfish Review Press, has been reviewed in the New York Times, the Home News Tribune, the Small Farmer’s Journal, and the Raven Chronicles, and is a finalist for the 2005 Washington State Book Award. A second volume of farming poems due next year is entitled Ripening.