You know how one thing leads to another if you spend any unregulated time on the internet? Well, this morning my mind led me into the craziest side street. It started with Stephen Dunn, a fine poet whose work I've long admired, and because I ran across a poem by him involving a clown, I found myself thinking more than I really wanted to about them. Clowns have always creeped me out. I find nothing amusing about them. I have even wondered, what kind of a person becomes a clown? Who in their right mind would want to put on that crazy get-up and try to make kids laugh? And my mind can only fathom that it's someone who doesn't like being themselves. Someone who has something to hide. I'm telling you, I get the creepy-crawlies from them. And I know I'm not the only one.
If a clown had shown up at one of my birthday parties - and I use that term loosely because I don't recall any party, ever, and there would never have been enough money for a clown anyway, thank God - I would have wondered how much my parents really liked me. Did they harbor ill-will towards me? Was I secretly adopted, as I sometimes wondered anyway? It's not that they didn't acknowledge our birthdays, they did, and we received some fine presents - although nothing that would break the bank, they were still well-chosen - so worrying about a clown at my birthday party would have been akin to worrying about getting eaten by a shark when I'd never been anywhere near the ocean, but that didn't stop me from worrying about it. Maybe I should be more worried about run-on sentences.
Anyway, I ran across this poem by Stephen Dunn and it got me thinking, too much, and also raised a metaphor or two, possibly three. Maybe it's because the world seems a little crazy right now and ripe for these things and the whole clown thing made me even more aware of it. Is this about a kid's birthday party gone awry? Is this about a clown inexplicably emerging from the woods? I don't know for certain but if a clown emerged from my woods I'd run like hell. I wouldn't be offering him a ride to any birthday party. He'd have to hoof it on those ridiculously over-sized, floppy shoes of his. And why should the kid have to make nice just to cover for the angry parents? I'm telling you, it's all a bit unsettling. I suppose that's the point. See what you think.
"If a Clown"
If a clown came out of the woods,
a standard-looking clown with over-sized
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 pertains 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?
~ Stephen Dunn
The whole thing raises a lot of questions. Speaking strictly for myself: please, do not send in the clowns. No ventriloquist dummies, either.