Before I could write but could talk a little
The Circus came for the two years before my father
Came back from the war.
I was four.
My aunt, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother
Lived with me in that part of town
So the Circus was just a walk. My aunt took me one year
Didn’t believe in the Circus
Because it was in English
And she spoke German
Not English. Her daughter
(My grandmother) was in bed filled
With cancer and wanted to hear all about the Circus
When we came back and she argued about it
In German with her mother after I told
Her (my grandmother) as much as I was able.
I see I’ve gotten off the track of the Circus itself
Which my father took me to one year when
I could organize thoughts in my mind with words
But everybody here has died of cancer
Except my father who died anyway
And the Circus is far like Nepal or Poland or Molokai—
I remember it as some flashes of light.
I may have seen or I may only have heard and read about
Its odors, frightening aerial chances, and
Its train that arrived the day before
Unloading its people, its animals, and its huge piles of folded canvas.
Statute of Limitations
When I was ten, my father told me
He had a big project I might like to continue
When he disappeared and when I could join
The Army and vote, just about then
He guessed he’d be going away.
His project was to eliminate questions, or
Rather, the interrogative tense. You
Could still find a way to inquire
Or do science. This seemed reasonable,
Do-able, and admirable when I was ten and when
I was eleven, twelve, and thirteen.
When I was fourteen I got a girlfriend
Or rather she got me, she was eighteen
And the interrogative was of value to her
Like my inexhaustible penis. When I was fifteen
She went to college, found men her age,
And dumped me, by saying I’m dumping you
For Roy in Berkeley. I asked why
And she explained in detail their somewhat superior
Conversations and far superior fucking.
You’d think that would have driven me
To embrace and continue my father’s project
About not asking questions but it didn’t.
That seemed a different subject and not anything
That would have stopped her from telling me
The details. For one thing, I didn’t ask “Why?’
I said “Hmm, uh.” Well, time went by, I voted
And avoided the draft into the senseless war
And Dad, as he predicted, passed away,
Croaked, was incurable, you know, died,
At that time. His interrogative stuff was in paper
Files and on his computer. There are two halves
In every person, the half that loves
And the half that thinks and of course
They are close companions. Thus I knew Dad’s
Project was nearly insane while I felt a drowning
Loss, a surprise, tsunami grief. I also
Still was in love with my older girlfriend
And violently jealous. All together this happening
At roughly the same time when I was eighteen.
I have tried to this day to think of a project
Like my father’s which, mine, would keep the interrogative
And eliminate sex and books.
I see I will have to try to tromp
All over legality, but there you have it,
There I have it.
ARTHUR VOGELSANG’s books are A Planet (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1983); Twentieth Century Women (University of Georgia Press, 1988), which was selected by John Ashbery for the Contemporary Poetry Series; Cities and Towns (University of Massachusetts Press, 1996), which received the Juniper Prize; Left Wing of a Bird (Sarabande, 2003); Expedition: New & Selected Poems (Ashland Poetry Press, 2011); and Orbit (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016). He is co-editor of the Norton Anthology The Body Electric: America’s Best Poetry from The American Poetry Review. The recipient of three NEA fellowships in poetry, he lives in Los Angeles and can also be found at http://www.arthurvogelsang.com