Iris, the Bearded Lady

Nina, the trapeze girl, wonders what I think about all dayóif I stare

back.  I gaze above their heads, imagine her in the big tent swirling

through a rush of heat as the crowd sucks in its breath.  She strokes my

chin, twirls the dark strands íround her fingers and pulls my face to hers.

This traveling, she says, staring at me with those airy green eyes.

When traffic lulls, I tell the Siamese twins bits of opera story.

Carlotta loves tender romance.  Simone prefers tragedy.  They

will never be happy.  Nina wants a man who could catch her

mid-air from a double twist and look fine in sequined tights,

but we have found no one.  Last week the lion tamer took her

 

to a matinee, but his limbs were heavy, and the theater ceiling

low.  I donít go into townsónothing there I need.  The costumer

dresses me in silk and lace, with sheer stockings.  Iíve been told

from behind I look quite pleasing.  I prefer strangers

see my face first.  They file past mesmerized.  Their lives

 

are unimaginableówomen who shrink behind the men,

men who linger outside the tent at closing.  Each month I send my mother

half the money.  She sends back razors, canít know what itís like

in our trailer after dark, with Nina lightly swaying in the hammock

beside me.  This traveling, I think, and wonder what sheís dreaming.

 

Tonight, if Carlotta falls asleep first, Iíll tell Simone of Gilda

sacrificing herself for the Duke of Mantua, who has seduced

and abandoned her.  But if Simone falls asleep first, Gilda

will run from the door of the dark in through fierce

lightning and be reunited with her father before morning.