Wednesday, February 23, 2011



At your first birthday mother caught three cardinals and cut them clean across their throats. She set them on your windowsill, an offering that she said he been performed in our family for generations.


I have remembered this, sitting at my kitchen table this morning, watching the birds jockey for position at my neighbor’s feeders. There are flashes of red in the bustle, but I cannot count the cardinals.


On the night of June 17th in 1936, outside of Lincoln, Nebraska, one of the carts on the Ferris wheel of traveling carnival tore away from its bolts and hung from the girders, the slicing shriek of steal shearing away cutting above the din of the midway. One side of the cart held fast. One passenger crouched inside, clinging to the side of the cart while a woman held to the lap bar, flung out and swinging in free air. Her legs wheeled wildly, brown wrinkled stockings searching for a foothold. When her fingers slipped, she sprang from the bar, casting her frame into flight, arms beating for the air and finding it unforgiving. The midway had hushed and so the wet slap of her body against the dusty ground bounced back from the tents around.

The men of the town came back that night and demanded the carney in charge of the wheel. They tarred and feathered him there at the entrance, in front of the other performers and cut him clean across his throat. The performers watched him spilling out in the headlights of the men’s trucks. The clatter of their engines, the tick of their pistons droned out across the prarie.

No comments: