A Clown at Midnight : Poems

by Andrew Hudgins



National Book Award finalist Andrew Hudgins offers a meditation on humor, ruminating on the consolations and terrors, delights and discomforts of laughter.

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780544108806
  • ISBN-10: 0544108809
  • Pages: 112
  • Publication Date: 06/11/2013
  • Carton Quantity: 36

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About the Book
About the Author
Excerpts
  • “Recklessness and rigor, in equal measure, mark the stirring poetics of Andrew Hudgins in this fine new book. Hudgins can wrestle a rhyme scheme into submission with one hand tied behind his back and can penetrate the black heart of history with a single, subtly rendered detail. He laughs with Democritus and weeps with Heraclitus and, line by distillate line, contrives a tonic antidote to “the acetone / of American inattention.” — Linda Gregerson

    In A Clown at Midnight Andrew Hudgins offers a meditation on humor with a refreshing poignancy and cutting wit. He touches on love and nature, but at its core this collection is about the consolations and terrors, the delights and discomforts, of laughter, taking its title from a quote by Lon Chaney Sr.: “The essence of true horror is a clown at midnight.” Skillfully probing paradoxes, Hudgins conjures the titular clown: “Down these mean streets a bad joke walks alone / bruised head held low, chin tucked in tight, eyes down / defiant. He laughs and it turns to a moan.” Hudgins gives us utter honesty and accessible verse, exploring moments both uncomfortable and satirical while probing the impulse to confront life’s most demanding trials with laughter.

    “Hudgins’s poems are often funny, hinging on a joke or wisecrack or malapropism, but human nature red in tooth and claw has always been his greatest theme.” — BookPage

    Subjects

    American/General

  • A Joke Is Washed Up on a Desert Island

    A joke is washed up on an island,

    miles of coarse, brown grit

    and a few bent palms. He’s thrilled. Alone,

    he’ll stroll the beach or sit

     

    mulling the gray surf and his life.

    He believes he’s kept the sacred

    sacred by profaning it.

    But words and stories sped

     

    so quickly from his raucous mouth

    he hardly thought about them.

    Alone, he’ll study doubts he’s had

    since on a dubious whim

     

    he swaggered into that first brothel,

    first bar and first bar mitzvah,

    first monastery. What angry hope

    or compulsive mania

     

    flung him on the judgment of friends

    and strangers: a laugh or silence?

    He’d never paused to mull things over,

    and though thinking’s a nuisance,

     

    it’s time to think. He sits, considers,

    and the teasing sea deposits

    a naked beauty at his feet — 

    a movie star. Huge tits?

     

    Or small? Full lips or thin? You

     choose.

    Whatever turns your crank,

    that’s what floats up. And then two more,

    beautiful, blond, and blank.

     

    They swirl around him, asking, “Is that

    a banana in your pocket?”

    Smart women whoring for a joke!

    And all at once he gets it:

     

    the human cost of laughter. It pains him.

    The people he’s offended,

    they’re human, unlike him, a concept

    he’d never comprehended — 

     

    a reverie of thick self-pity

    that’s broken by a shout

    of “Help me! Help me!” from the waves.

    Annoyed, the joke swims out

     

    and finds an armless, legless man

    bobbing in the spray.

    “I’m Bob. Remember me?” Bob shouts.

    The joke saves him anyway.

     

    The joke has always hated Bob,

    the lamest slip of wit,

    and now Bob’s propped on the joke’s beach,

    choking and spraying spit.

     

    The joke stares down the empty sand,

    listening hopelessly

    for the peace he’d hoped to find. He drags

    Bob back into the sea.

     

    At first Bob bobs, but head held under,

    he blubbers, bubbles, drowns.

    This joke’s a killer. He looks out to sea,

    sees what he sees, and frowns.

     

    The waves are pitching with old punch lines,

    washing, like Natalie Wood,

    ashore. They couldn’t live without him,

    although he’d hoped they could.

     

    As each one staggers from the waves,

    it asks, “Where’s Bob?” The joke

    says, “He’ll turn up.” Why are they asking?

    Who cares about that jerk?

     

    He’s got to blow this island, man.

    He jumps into the sea.

    But he’s my joke. I send a shark

    and the shark chomps off one knee.

     

    He keeps on kicking at the waves.

    The shark chomps off both legs.

    “Very funny!” screams the joke. “So now

    I’m Bob. Come on,” he begs.

     

    “Let me be Art!” Tear out this page

    and pin it to your wall:

    He’s Art. Or throw it on the floor.

    Bingo, he’s Matt. Your call.

     

    But I like the turning point of jokes.

    He’ll bob, but he won’t sink.

    Let’s leave him there to meditate.

    The shark will help him think.

     

    Three pale blonds gather on the beach

    to watch him flail. In moonlight

    their roots turn dark, their hair turns black.

    Their eyes are old-moon white.

     

    Birth of a Naturalist

     

    Among moist bromeliads

    I was bored, and the soft-fingered

    ferns annoyed me like an aunt

    touching my face and trailing

    her fingers down my cheek.

    What was I, a possession?

    In the gift shop where I desired

    nothing, a stranger confused

    boredom for balked desire

    and bought me a small pot

    with a blunt nub, like a toad’s

    brown snout, jutting

    from dry soil. “Thank you,” I said.

    “Thank you,” as I’d been taught,

    and she departed, a plump whorl

    of black hair and red scarves.

    In my pocket, the pot rode

    my thigh like a damp stone,

    and because it was a secret,

    my secret, I began to love it.

    The next day the toad’s

    tumescent snout, now mossy green,

    cracked the packed dirt.

    On the windowsill a rickety stalk

    rose and kept rising, rising

    until it fell into my bed,

    and with the toppled orchid in my arms,

    I slept until Mother’s laughter

    woke me, and I was shamed.

    Again in secret, I tucked

    its roots in spongy humus

    beyond our lawn, where, spindly

    and limp-leafed, it dwindled.

    Now when I stretch out

    over its absence, the coarse

    vigor of its killers cushions me,

    and I see the lost

    orchid animating bracken,

    buckthorn, buttercup, and bramble.

    Morning glory overclimbs it all,

    green on green, blaring

    its beautiful and murderous

    alabaster trumpets

    while twizzling vines unfurl,

    spin in sunlight, and, clutching,

    caress my face.

    First Year Out of School

    A man . . . may have wild birds in an aviary; these in one sense he possesses, and in another he has none of them.

              — Plato, Theaetetus

    I fingered flannel shirts

    and wrinkled seed potatoes,

    derelict in dusty bins,

    but bought a birdcage,

    white paint peeling off

    corroded wire. For weeks

    it crowded my bedside table

    until, walking to work,

    I heard baby rabbits

    mewing in a hole. Later,

    at my desk, I watched a crow

    ferry three gray lumps

    to an oak limb and pick them

    into red strings. In one

    imagined life, I caught

    that crow and taught it Blake —

    Little Lamb, who made thee?

    In another, I gleaned raw corn

    from nearby fields at night,

    fed it to the strident crow,

    and every night after work

    cleaned its fetid cage.

    In this life, I sold the cage

    for a quarter what I paid,

    and moved to a city where,

    on the street one Monday morning,

    a man chanted, “Spare

    change, spare change,

    spare change,” so rote

    that like everyone before me

    I didn’t bother saying no.

    I was no different. Why then

    did he block my path

    and offer me a matted,

    damp, dark thing —

    a hatchling half held,

    half nestled in his beard?

    And why did I linger over

    the unfledgeable lump?

    “No,” I said, pushing past,

    but after an hour I returned

    and with five grubby ones

    paid for the epiphany

    he’d led me to: I yearn for flight,

    but believe in the two

    reliable slow feet

    on which I stood, receiving

    from his hands unto mine

    a gasping, unsalvable mouth.