Poem: Benjamin Harnett

Illo for Benjamin Harnett's poem.

“The Great American Circus”

After we waited in line to see
a pale-as-grass python in an aquarium
at the end of a trailer, I asked, “Is it sick?”
Dad didn’t know what to say.
It was 1987, and I was six.
We went into the single, dingy tent, next,
where a lone elephant stood, shifting
its weight. Tiny Tim came out,
played “Tip-Toe Through the Tulips”
in his trademark falsetto
to a scattering of bored kids.

Nine years after, on a stage in Minnesota,
Tiny Tim collapsed, died an hour later
of a myocardial infarction, irreversible
necrosis of the heart. He was 64.
He’d had top hits, married Miss Vickie
on Carson but his career had faded.
Born Herbert Khaury, I learned later he
could also sing in a deep baritone,
and recorded an album homage
to “the great crooners.”

At the end of a second marriage
(to a Miss Jan), bloated and sallow, he joined
“The Great American Circus,” a one-ring affair
out of Tampa. He told a local reporter
as he embarked,
“I made it once, I’d like
to make it one more time.”
Benjamin Harnett, born 1981 in Cooperstown, NY, is a fiction writer, poet, historian, and digital engineer. His essays, poems, translations, and short stories have appeared in Brooklyn Quarterly, Pithead Chapel, Wag’s Revue, The Columbia Review, Tahoma Literary Review, and Queen Mob’s Teahouse. He holds an MA in Classics from Columbia University and lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Toni, and their pets. In 2005, he co-founded the fashion brand Hayden-Harnett. He currently works at The New York Times.

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