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Reflections of a working writer and reader



A Poem by Stephen Dunn

If a Clown
by Stephen Dunn

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?

Published in The New Yorker, 24th August 2009.
This is the link to Stephen Dunn‘s Site.

2 Responses to “A Poem by Stephen Dunn”

  1. Thank you John for sharing this poem. There are quite a few images here to take away and ponder, chew on and toss about for further consumption.

    Words are amazing aren’t they.

    jb says: I’m not going to argue with that, Tracey. Words are probably responsible for most of it.

  2. Thomas Baker says:

    Yeah a clown out of place would certainly make me shudder. It’s the stuff of nightmares.