Send in the Clowns

Daddy’s pacemaker is keeping him alive
Or is it the pig heart valve
That kicks open his atrium door?
Or the defibrillator
That rattles his rib cage?
It’s hard to say.

It used to be will power alone
Was enough to keep a man in silk.
Now it takes more than the consumption of pork rind
To keep a family fed,
Now it takes more than the tightening of purse strings
To keep a heart beating.
Now it takes more than the preservation of fine wine
To get the blood stirring,
To summon the strength
Of a former breadwinner and ringmaster
Whose charms no longer work
On the lioness and cubs that he once tamed.

Daddy’s drunk again on a hot, summer night in Lexington.
The cans are crushed, lying on the vinyl floor beside the trash compactor.
The floor is sticky and needs mopping.
The trailer’s AC is on the blink.
Daddy’s sitting on a stool in the kitchen, smoking, sweating, staring into space.
I call out in the night, only wanting a glass of water to quench my thirst. No one comes.
I walk into the kitchen, open the refrigerator door and reach for the milk carton.
It slips from my hand and squirts onto my leg. I cry out.
“Wipe that cream off your leg, child,” he says sternly.
“There’s no sense crying over spilt milk.”

Daddy’s circus act is over.
The spotlight has faded.
The crowds have gone away.
They say he lost his appeal when he rubbed his balls before the curtains closed and told the bearded fat lady to “Exit stage left, bitch. You do me no good no more.”
No one was left to sing. Or clean up after the elephants.
The audience demanded a refund. The strongman hid in fear.

Now Daddy remembers the past
Better than he understands the present.
I warm his meals and set up the TV dinner stand by his recliner after the soaps are over.
“Go pound salt,” he likes to say when I plead to him for answers.
“I forgot more than you’ll ever know.”

“Daddy, how do you know which side your bread is buttered? You never told me.”
“You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” he says with a cackle.

Daddy likes it that I don’t understand many things.
It hurts my head to think how much I don’t know.
He often makes me feel like a little girl, even though my hair is gray and I tend to him.
I fix him food, bathe him and even wipe his behind when he’s done on the toilet.
If he would just answer me this, maybe I could sleep tonight:
“Daddy, what does it mean when they say, ‘send in the clowns’?”

[About Dan Cafaro]
[Poetry Break Editor Note]

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