Thursday, August 20, 2009

What could be sadder than a clown in need of a context?

this weeks new yorker features a poem by stephen dunn called "if a clown" that hinges on the peculiar phenomenon of encountering a clown on an occasion when the clown has (seemingly) no context in which to be clowning. sitting in traffic to the jersey shore, i glanced to my right and found clown in full clown garb casually driving a maroon honda civic. frightened (the dumbo effect*) and weirded out i pointed my finger at him as if he were a polar bear prancing down 5th avenue in july, or a high school teacher at a movie theater (teachers go to movies???). the clown shot me a cooky smile, perfectly in character. outlandish creatures, those clowns.

*the dumbo effect is a theory, concocted by tgd, that holds the 1941 disney movie 'dumbo' responsible for the ostracization of the clown. how could you not be afraid of clowns after seeing that movie?

If a Clown

by Stephen Dunn (New Yorker 8/24/2009)

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?

more clown fun (okay, mime fun) in paris je'taime:

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