On a sweltering day in 1961
my mother and stepfather took me to the circus
in the San Fernando Valley. The air was filled
with the scent of orange groves.
My mother had bought a new dress,
a no-sleeved shift, the coarse yellow
and white calico fell over her young body
as she grabbed my hand. She was bright
with high brows, bobbed hair, fair skin,
slight heels, bare legs, and orange lipstick
broad green eyes.
Why she loved that man beside her was beyond me,
but I bit my lip as ever and ever forever more.
She was fair she was always fair but today
my mother squeezed my hand
and I tore at her hem, standing behind her
as she moved into the circus tent.
My stepfather’s steps swaddled behind me,
shadowed gaits and stripes of a lion tamer
dark brow, thin grin. I sat between them
on the bleachers huddled up against my mother
while hundreds of people were laughing and clapping
at the circus clowns.
My stepfather chewed sweet salty popcorn,
but only I could see beyond the white tent.
Outside the circus door the dusted air rose
in the heat.
Sun rays spiraled onto the brown paneled
station wagons’ washboards.
The rays hit the sides of cars and swirled
back into the atmosphere
like a thunder bolt of blinding sun.
My mother had this bad habit
of grabbing my hand when she moved,
and she was moving now towards Bozo
the clown in the circus tent.
She was smiling as she shook his mitt.
His head was crowned with a tangerine bush
of coarse hair. Ghastly beast, he towered
two heads high above my father.
I stood further inside my mother’s hem, staring
at Bozo’s plastic shoes as big as station wagons,
layers of clown cloth piled down his long pinstriped
body gown. Chalk white face, red ball of a nose,
giant wet lips painted in a fat high smile.
But only I could see his small pale scowl
beneath the paint.
He leaned to shake my hand
as my mother pulled me out and pushed me forward.
I watched the sawdust and sunrays spiral through the circus tent
as I clutched my mother’s leg shrieking and crying
as my mother blushed an apology
as we left the circus tent.