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Street Performer, Mexico City

September 3, 2009

Marveling bystanders applaud his burning
Star, its vertices eight wheeling torches,
A brass hoop he faces the sky to hold
Up with his clenched chin, an adversary
Of gravity, the odds, and just plain sense.
Bare-chested, he boasts a statue’s torso,
The festive skirt of an Aztec sun worshipper.
These tourists of his torrid zone have come
Far south, grope for coins and context, the cosmogony
Of their own experience, mimes unicycling in a park,
A subway cellist sawing off debts, her velvet
Case starry with quarters. The crowd believes him
Here just for show, quaint diversion, a little fun
And profit from useless talent. They’re ravenous
For spectacle, sacrifice to the primitive gods
Of pride and failure, can’t see the hours
Of practice that make the trick possible,
His whole life an act of trembling balance,
Of sweaty breathing and keeping the tender
Jaw rigid. There’s nothing so solitary,
Though his young wife would have assisted,
Selling penny candy from a bag instead
Of sleeping in their dim niche of an apartment.
But she’s ponderous, about to hatch
A little more risk. He’s juggling children
Already and they sear him whenever he gets
Near them, even in his thoughts. The words
He uses flare about him, how this is much
Better than Sinola with its fields, its shootouts,
Though she prays for curtains, a working stove.
He’s like Nanahuatzin the sacred and willing
Legend who leapt into the inferno
And became brilliance in the final age.
He doesn’t want sympathy, just the living green
Ash of Yankee dollars, and he’s tried everything,
Burnishing windshields at stoplights with spit
And paper, guiding drivers parking cars into
A minute of his world. But there’s no playing
With fire, the real draw, or so he wants
Them to think, purveyor of the perfect
Stunt or just another shoddy miracle.

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27 Comments leave one →
  1. joannejohns permalink
    September 3, 2009 7:52 am

    “A subway cellist sawing off debts, her velvet / Case starry with quarters.” – such a strong image, beautifully crafted.

    • davidmoolten permalink*
      September 3, 2009 5:07 pm

      Thanks. My wife plays the violin, and while what she does with the bow, and what I do with say a hacksaw and a piece of pipe couldn’t be more different, there is a delicate violence even in Mozart…

  2. September 3, 2009 9:06 am

    You……are spending too much time in Mexico. “These tourists of his torrid zone”, I love the intention of this as well as all the other word visions that spring from the poem.
    DH

    • davidmoolten permalink*
      September 3, 2009 5:09 pm

      Thanks Donald,
      I’m visiting it in the news, and in the past. I haven’t been in many years, but there’s something about places south that fires me up.

  3. September 3, 2009 9:26 am

    Hello David,

    Once again you have created a life amid the rich description; someone whose situation is all too real.

    • davidmoolten permalink*
      September 3, 2009 5:12 pm

      Thanks Derrick,

      Street performers have it hard anywhere. But in Mexico they are part of what approaches atrocity.

  4. September 3, 2009 9:36 am

    Always when we watch street performers we never consider the hours and toil that make their craft appear so brilliant. Thank you for sharing this focus into their personal strife. It was brought home for me with the line,” can’t see the hours of practice that make the trick possible,”. A very well written piece.

    • davidmoolten permalink*
      September 3, 2009 5:16 pm

      Thanks so much Linda. In Mexico, like so many “occupations” street-performance is visible but the suffering is invisible.

  5. September 3, 2009 12:57 pm

    Excellent poem. How many of us see it that way?

    geometry of fireworks cuts into me

    • davidmoolten permalink*
      September 3, 2009 5:20 pm

      Thanks for your praise and feedback, Gautami.

  6. djvorreyer permalink
    September 3, 2009 7:05 pm

    I agree with Joann – the image of the cellist is a highlight for me.

    • davidmoolten permalink*
      September 3, 2009 9:53 pm

      Thanks for reading the poem and letting me know.

  7. September 3, 2009 7:45 pm

    yikes….this is such a good read David…loved it…”subway cellist sawing off debts” love it…

    • davidmoolten permalink*
      September 3, 2009 9:56 pm

      Hi Wayne,

      Thank you. Street performers have always intrigued me. It takes a lot of guts to be so public and spontaneous.

  8. September 3, 2009 10:55 pm

    Lovely one. Just enjoyed these lines

    But there’s no playing
    With fire, the real draw, or so he wants
    Them to think, purveyor of the perfect
    Stunt or just another shoddy miracle.

  9. davidmoolten permalink*
    September 4, 2009 4:58 am

    Thank you Jeeves. I liked the Promethean aspect of the picture.

  10. poetryaboutart permalink
    September 4, 2009 9:42 am

    A poem embued with understanding, but not pity. The well-wrought blank verse (modified) lends dignity to the subject of the poem. These lines sound especially Shakespearean to me:
    The crowd believes him
    Here just for show, quaint diversion, a little fun
    And profit from useless talent.

    • davidmoolten permalink*
      September 4, 2009 2:21 pm

      Thank you. I’m glad if I managed to avoid getting overly tendentious. It’s always tough with an “issues” poem.

  11. rallentanda permalink
    September 4, 2009 11:12 am

    Some depressing aspects of poverty i.e.spit and paper to clean windshields…Laughed at the cellist in the subway sawing off debts.Sorry!
    When we were music students I used to share with a friend who used to pawn her viola when she was running short of money.Her father was a rich businessman who travelled regularly. He would bring back as presents mikimoto pearls and the like and she would sell those to get her viola out of pawn.I hope she never reads this.I loved your poem.You are setting a very high standard here for the rest of us.

    • davidmoolten permalink*
      September 4, 2009 2:24 pm

      Thanks so much. I’ve known a number of “starving” musicians, and am now married to one. She’s a singer though, not an instrumentalist. And we’ve mostly managed to stay out of hock.

  12. September 4, 2009 4:52 pm

    I really loved the visuals in this poem. Two that stood out in particular were the cellist sawing and the living green ash.

  13. davidmoolten permalink*
    September 4, 2009 5:24 pm

    Thanks Francis. I try to be as visual as I can. Here the photograph, of course, helped a lot.

  14. September 4, 2009 7:12 pm

    This poem is so true.

    He doesn’t want sympathy, just the living green
    Ash of Yankee dollars, and he’s tried everything,

    All the magic comes down to trying to solve this.

    • davidmoolten permalink*
      September 6, 2009 10:39 am

      Thanks Paul, sometimes it seems as if it will take something supernatural to fix it.

  15. September 4, 2009 9:00 pm

    This is wonderful. All your images work to open up a whole life in these lines.

    • davidmoolten permalink*
      September 6, 2009 10:37 am

      Thanks Nathan, for the praise, and for the great image/prompt.

  16. December 27, 2009 10:19 pm

    Автор, посты у вас, конечно, очень интересные. Но вы не думали заменить дизайн?

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