Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"The Astounding Circus of Dr. Tourette" by Heather Davis

The urge to tic—they say it’s like an itch.
I try to imagine this, to be you for one
involuntary moment, forever
suppressing, tamping down, betrayed
by neural pathways. It’s always
eye blink, hand twitch, ghostly
falsetto in the throat, that random soundtrack.
I see how it becomes
a circus in here
but you can’t charge admission
to the strangers who stare, the bosses
who wonder, the mothers as they
pull their children back for fear
something may be catching. At least
you don’t curse out of turn, hurl
insults without cause though I know
you want to and would be
wonderful at it. Not so long ago,
we would have called a priest
to exorcise your demons
or asked for the shining
shock therapy machine. Both
would fail. I am only beginning
to understand what this
possession must be like and already
I feel singled out, unbearably eccentric.
Pretending to be you, I’m like
the bearded lady, resigned
to her stage, who’s learned
to take comfort in the antics of monkeys,
and in the shocking boom
of the human cannonball, who
revels in the backstage benders of clowns
as they wash away their sadness, who’s come
to love her own exact and beautiful
separation from the crowd.

In this wonderful poem, Heather Davis lets us enter the mind of compassion. As readers we alternately step inside and outside the skin of an exotic other, attempting to understand, as the speaker does, what it feels like to "be you for one/ involuntary movement", to have "strangers who stare"," bosses who wonder". Through the intimacy of Davis's well chosen imagery, we grow strangely accustomed to, and even excited by this new "circus" life, becoming "like/ the bearded lady" whose wisdom and self-acceptance leave us with a deeper understanding of the pain and joy that coexist in that "exact and beautiful/separation".

Heather Lynne Davis earned a B.A. in English from Hollins University and an M.A. in creative writing from Syracuse University. She attended the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets, and is a winner of the 1991 Hayden Carruth Poetry Prize at Syracuse University, a Larry Neal Writer’s Award, and the 2007 Arlington County Moving Words Poetry Contest. She is the author of The Lost Tribe of Us, which won the 2007 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award. Her poems have appeared in Cream City Review, Poet Lore, Puerto del Sol, and Sonora Review, among others. She lives in Front Royal, Virginia with her husband, the poet José Padua, and their daughter. With her husband she writes a blog about post-city life in small-town America called Shenandoah Breakdown. Her book is available at Main Street Rag Press

“The Astounding Circus of Dr. Tourette” is published on Tuesday Poem with permission. Eileen Moeller is a poet from Philadelphia, Pa. Visit her Tuesday Poem on her blog And So I Sing: Poems and Iconography, and the other Tuesday poets using our blog list.


Claire Beynon said...

This is an exceptional piece, Heather.

As you say, Eileen, it allows us to 'enter the mind of compassion.'

The final line is especially poignant, even shocking. Thank you both.

Kate Kennedy said...

That is an awesome poem. This is my favourite line:
At least
you don’t curse out of turn, hurl
insults without cause though I know
you want to and would be
wonderful at it.