Sunday, January 09, 2011


As a child    you would
like to have been seen as precious.
That there was a moment when
all those eyes gathered outside the
maternity ward window came to
gaze down upon you
in your cozy bassinet,
and then…   those words.
Each individual struggling to be
the first to utter them.
“Ah, isn’t he precious?”
And of course everyone
nods    in agreement.

And that moment…
That   precise moment…
That was very well the last time
you were ever truly precious.

Shortly after this you
came to crap your pants
for the very first time, and
there began your fall from grace.
Oh, I suppose in a way
you were still precious.
Simply lesser so with each full diaper,
or     equivalent fecal mistake
on your    decadent way to death.

I suppose there is
that moment before death
when it’s possible to be seen
as precious yet again.
Yes, when infantile transitions to senile.
Bookends to that span of life
in between where your every action
is rendered stark via   brutal critique.

My mother told me to be careful.
That the lamp was indeed precious.
That it could not   be replaced.
Something compared to which I
   was   not held in the
   same   high   esteem.
I figured the message here
was that I could be replaced.
Indeed with only the slightest physical effort
upon my father’s part, and
another one of me
could easily be at hand.

The oil lamp in question
had belonged to my mother’s grandmother,
and after so many coveted generations,
had finally passed into her hands.
There was Grandma Mary,
and there was Grandma Mary’s lamp.
In many ways,  one and the same.

The lamp sat atop an upright piano.
A substantial bit of furniture.
Something you would think a small boy
could not shift in weight.
Something that one small boy
did   in fact    manage to do.
And there came that afternoon
when that lamp managed to
topple from its place
and cascade to the floor below
with a horrible sickening crash.

And somehow  my mother knew.
Within seconds, she passed from kitchen
to slowly emerge into the living room.
And there she came to stand,
looking down upon me
and her precious lamp
which now lay in shards
there    at my feet.

And me?     
I am awaiting that
explosion of fury
I so rightly   deserve,
and yet     nothing.
Absolutely  nothing.
There   upon her stoic face,
a most eerie    calm.
And then,   after the pass
of what appeared   eternity,
words come to emit   from her mouth.
Without looking up from the lamp,
she dryly states,
“Get out   of the house.”

Not an exclamation of anger, but
a simple sedate phrase:
“Get out of the house.”
And there, quickly making my exit,
I crossed the lawn to pass
deep into the adjacent woods
where I hid   for a full  two hours.
I was most certainly not precious
   and   knew it.

Years later my mother conveyed
how she fell to her knees and sobbed.
And why had she uttered those words,
“Get out of the house”?
It was because she wanted to   save me.
That at that moment, her utmost desire
was to strike me   with her fist.
Not something one does with that
which is supposedly precious.

A few years before this,
the woman who had given her that lamp
had fallen down a flight of stairs.
Someone we knew of as “Mary”.
The Mary who stood at the top of
   those ill-fated stairs,
and not she who ended up
there at the bottom like a
shattered and ruined lamp.

Well, not so much in body,
but rather in   being.
There within that mind,
this was   tied to that.
String to strand.
A matrix of woven psyche that
had here been ripped   asunder.
A multitude of broken strings
now wadded and wound into a
large   misshapen   sphere.
This synaptic string and that,
once having served specific needs,
but now all   bound together—
compressed into a ball which
held no other purpose than
to roll across the floor and
careen between the legs
 of each and every 
 mislaid chair.

As a child it is understood
that our minds have yet to mature. 
That we’ve yet to be strung as it were.
That we are often incapable
of knowing what is best. That
we are apt to make mistakes
of which time may or
may not permit a certain forgiveness.

With senility there comes
this understanding
that the fabric of our being
has become thread-worn
   and tattered.
And though for this we are often
forgiven by others,
it is something we sadly
will not forgive ourselves.

The last time I saw Mary
was at a family gathering.
Afflicted beneath the sledge of 
multiple strokes, she was
wheeled into an adjacent room
and left to sit by herself.
An enforced solitude
for the fact that
the other adults
remembered her
for who she once was
and herewith could not bear
to see what she’d   become.

As a child I knew no better.
Did not know that my
Great Grandma Mary
had become one who
was now incapable
of the simplest act of conversation.

For me…
For me she was still there.
I mean…   
She was     wasn’t she?

And there as I knelt down before her,
her random gaze
came to reflect   that of mine.

Tears welled forth
from her long lost eyes,
as she came to acknowledge
   one small boys presence.
And there from her lips a
simple phrase came to repeat
   over and over.
“Let’s go.
   Let’s go.
      Let’s go.”

Again and again.
A mantra of brutal anguish.

And I wish I could have taken her
out through the door,
   across the lawn and
       there into
           the distant woods.

Out to a place where
she and I could hide together.

For you see
out in the woods,
you can often

©2010 Jack Hubbell

Big Top

  Big Top
You might find this a bit presumptuous
but within moments of our first meeting,
I knew we’d become    estranged.
Oh, it’s not that I didn’t like you.
No, there was not a single pre-existing bias
for what were we if not the
most complete of strangers?
Between strange
and estrange,
we were one and insane if
   only for a moment.

Yes, I’d like to say I liked you
but unlike you, I unfurled a
fence of indifference.
Abandoning our uncommon ground,
I left it for you to raise the circus tent
which made up your mind.
Lions and tigers and bears… oh my!

Presently, another arrives
upon our shared street corner
to set up his own circus tent.
And his lions are more ferocious;
his tigers more terrifying;
his bears     more unbearable.
Yo, and his circus comes complete with carnival.
And he’s smokin’ a cigarette, which is
almost as good as being a fire-eater.

Lucky Strikes in a rolled up sleeve.
“Step up. Step up.
You look pretty tough.
Let’s see if you can ring that bell.
Close   but no cigar.”
No cigar.     That’s you.
Oh   so   you.
“Um… Excuse me bud
but could I um…
   bum a cigarette?”
Dude is smokin’ and you ain’t
and somehow you figure you have just
got to get a little of what makes him
   “the Big Top”.

So he throws you a fag
and it would be a pretty good trick
if you caught it mid-air
but you don’t ‘cause   your circus is
   sawdust      and peanuts.
He knows it, and I know it.
And here with a crack of the whip,
some lion roars from your center ring
while we in the bleachers yawn in mass
as yet another painted clown
spills forth from a miniature car.

Here on this particular curb
there’s many a big top that
will roll up with it’s own unique
   barking ring-master.
Each one his own Ringling Brothers.
Each one his own Barnum and Bailey.
Each man insisting that his tent pole
is that much thicker, and taller,
and more rigid than the others.
Each one thinking his stay power
will outlast that of all his contenders.
Each one singing the praise
of those special acts that
grace his center ring being.

You would think it would be hard
to set up tent on this urban concrete curb,
yet you’d be amazed at the ease
   at which so many do.
This scrolling concrete beneath our feet…
This concrete that we share…
The same concrete
that stretches away
down to the men’s shelter,
some three or four blocks distant.
That place where Saint Francis of Assisi
pitches his tent and religion.
And again, this is a bit
presumptuous of me
but I get the feeling
you know that place
all   too  well.

There now,
giving your best impression as to
how a true Big Top smokes a cigarette,
I notice that there’s a prominent
indentation in your skull which
begins at your right temple
and wraps around to forehead.
This, the spot where the
lions crawled into your head,
or the portal from which they roar to escape.
And here with a flick of ash to the ground,
the beasts step to your brow
and bring words to your nicotine lips.

“I can kick six feet high.
They don’t know that.
They think I’m a pussy but
    I’m not    a pussy.
I can lift one thousand pounds, I can.
I could punch you in your heart.
Punch you in your heart…
   You’re dead.”

“Hey Rube!
Looks like we’ve got a violent one here.”

Yes well…
I suppose you’re only trying to warn me.
Imminent threat duly noted.
Relationship   estranged.
Ticket sales plummet, and you
wonder why your circus patronage
   is so limited?

And as we part our ways,
my mind travels to that distant building
where you will pitch your tent tonight.
To all those men and all those beds.
Chock o’ block tents of testosterone,
each with its own circus calliope.
That every man there
lives with elephant trunks
full of memories
which try as he may,
he will never forget.
That every man remembers
some girl in glittering sequins,
who swung from bar to bar,
but never chose to take his hand.
That she would rather risk the fall
than fall in love with him.

This man who painted tears across his cheek,
and made a target of his nose.
Who crawled inside a darkened box
and was skewered by
one hundred piercing swords.
Who placed his head in the lion’s mouth
and welcomed the scars it left.
All circus acts these men chose
to inflict upon themselves.

And there with the fall of night,
each marquee dims,
flaps are drawn,
costumes are hung,
lions, tigers and bears are
ushered to their respective cages
and the circus goes to sleep.

And there in that slumber,
you would think these men
would be given a token respite,
yet through the night,
they are jolted awake by
the random roar
of some beast in tortured pain.

Sawdust and peanuts.
Such is the life of men
who as boys once dreamt of
running away to join the circus.

Men who arrived at
their coveted destination
   only to find that
they now only dream of
finding a way back home.

©2010 Jack Hubbell