If a Clown: poem by Stephen Dunn
One of my favorite poets, Stephen Dunn, has a poem in the New Yorker titled “If A Clown” It gets into a lot of issues about fear of clowns, the magic of clowns, and a certain amount of the silly/hokey/crazy stuff you might do while dressed in white paint. Quite simply, this clown could have been me (although I rarely do birthday parties…)
In the comments feel free to write a poem in response– if we get a good one, we’ll send it into the New Yorker.
If a Clown
by Stephen Dunn
August 24, 2009
If a clown came out of the woods,
a standard-looking clown with oversized
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 pertained 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?
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The sad eyes of the clown could not
hide the pain within
stupid stunts to amuse
none but the self,
dressed in madness.