This is a suite of poems I wrote long ago in an attempt to understand the relationship of the artist to the audience and to his lover. For this suite, the artist is portrayed as male, the lover as female. Here the artist is only an instrument for art, not human. He is perfect only in art, and he must go on making it, on and on. For him, life and art cannot coexist. Here the audience is fatally human, the artist’s observer, a false participant. The artist inspires the audience, but essentially that experience points to the audience’s inability to make art. The artist is the lover’s obsession. She (the wife, the assistant) is mystified by it, at its mercy. She gives all and is empty, lifeless, wordless. She must kill her obsession in order to end it and the end feels like betrayal.

I later learned that these principles are not necessarily true. These poems are just a snapshot in time. A difficult time.


The Great Clown Rises

The Great Clown rises to applause
like a mother from her bed
in the dead of night.

The lights go up.
Someone shouts “Fire!”

And everyone runs clapping
to the exits.

But there will always be a question
lingering above the seats
even while they burn.


The Audience

The audience leads two lives.
In one it eats toast.
In another, glass.
It is hard on the audience.

It vibrates like a string.
It magnifies the sound of art
with pain and tears.
It slobbers on itself
and then goes home to limbo.

Clean bodies hate old clothes
the way it loathes its life.

Its heart is squeezed,
discarded dry.


First Sight

She takes away a postcard of the clown.
She boards the bus.
The bus is bright.


Loving a Great Clown

Loving a great clown
is whole and small.
Embarrassing, it sticks in the throat.

At home I watch mime in the bath:
over the tub’s edge you catch
your eyes in the bathroom mirror.
One look folds life
into a glancing miracle –
and then the towel.

Out we go
along the boulevard and you
can walk and talk while I (the fool)
am clumsy with the words and curbs.
My soul still shakes
with disbelief at what you are.

You order tea, I don’t.
Love chokes me silent.


The Great Clown Walks

The Great Clown walks on cans
to make him tall. It isn’t easy so
his mind is clenched upon technique.
The audience of course is moved.
It thanks him with its heart.
His heart is painted on.
He doesn’t stop to love.


The Great Clown Strips

The Great Clown strips –
a fool in the raw.

The audience comes gaping,
Not even makeup
covers what he is.
His monstrous reality
is what they came to see.

Between the clown and audience
there shimmers light.
And quivering with skin
he moves across it.
He stretches out his arms.
They scream and run.
Fathers clutch their daughters.
Doors slam and silence follows.


She Reads

A clown asleep
is simple poetry.
She sees imagination
ripple on his skin,
drumming up the
cadences of dreams.
Sometimes he chews.
Sometimes he moves
his hips.
She’s glad for eyelids.

Today in bed
they read some poems.
While he’s asleep
she reads the poet’s wives.


In Clown Heaven

In Clown Heaven
there will be an orderly reception.
The audience
will be blessed with reason
and will stand in line
to thank the clown
and shake his hand.
No tears.

In Clown Heaven
there will be a haven
where a clown can
be together with his mother
and nothing will be wrong.

Clown Heaven will be white.
The clown’s ideas will be
manifest upon the clouds.
All else will fall away.


She Packs

The assistant packs her tools
in a tool kit and
leaves behind her valuables:
they stink of clowns.

She crouches like a widow
waiting for him to
fall in love.


When She Jumped

When she jumped
she died for love.
Falling, her hair fell last.
Her tongue flew up in her mouth.
Her arm hairs blew.
She dropped her handkerchief.
She died before she touched.
Her torso came away and cracked.
Her heart fell out.
Her eyes looked back.
The handkerchief became her epitaph.
It covered her like light.
Sperm were living in her when she died.



Linda Frye Burnham, the 20th Century