Pagliacci

It is the great work of tiny humans to tease,
my grandfather would say, the wise Pagliaccio,
when I would cry in his lap over the gossip at school:

assassin, hack, man in woman’s clothing!
The children shouted these things
as I descended the busy avenue in black jacket,

tie, feeling like a little cadaver
given legs again, forced to walk one more time
through the embarrassing light.

But how they all grinned, parents and children alike,
when he strode across the lawn,
face blanched, fuzzy black snowballs climbing

the hem of his shirt to the point of his hat.
It was my birthday so he went deep
into his repertoire and juggled tomatoes, danced

a little Neapolitan jig, tossed a lasso
made of air around a tree with no tongue
to protest the bounce of his hips against its trunk.

Everyone laughed until it hurt.
Some clutched their stomachs, while others cried;
this continued until they begged for mercy

and he was satisfied they meant it.
Without rebuke, he wandered among them
lifting skirts, loosening ties and belts

before bursting into aria. At center stage
he knelt and presented me with an orange blade
from the garden. Its leafy tassel swinging wildly,

I fenced the air into submission. Given my cue,
brow sweaty, I, his little Neddie,
plunged my carrot through his heart

and watched him stagger like a drunk,
grope the emptiness once, twice,
then collapse beautifully at my feet

to the applause of the heartbroken.
On his wink I spun into the gallery
where slacks were still pooled around ankles

and smeared crosses on their foreheads
with the white cake of my face.
As a cloud moved and the sun

swept their faces, I watched my grandfather
rise out of the grass like a dark star
hurrying to cleave the light from the light.

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