County Fair

On the mudroad of plodding American bodies,
         my son wove like an antelope from stall   
to stall and want to want. I no’ed it all: the wind-up
         killer robot and winged alien; knives   
hierarchical in a glass case; the blow-up vinyl wolf
         bobbing from a pilgrim’s staff.
Lured as I was by the bar-b-que’s black smoke,
         I got in line. A hog carcass,
blistered pink on a spit, made its agonized slow roll,   
         a metaphor, I thought, for anyone
ahead of me—the pasty-faced and broad. I half-longed   
         for the titanium blade I’d just seen
curved like a falcon’s claw. Some truth wanted cutting   
         in my neighbors’ impermanent flesh.
Or so my poisoned soul announced, as if scorn   
         for the body politic
weren’t some outward form of inner scorn,
         as if I were fit judge.
Lucky my son found the bumper cars. Once I’d hoped   
         only to stand tall enough
to drive my own. Now when the master switch got thrown   
         and sparks skittered overhead
in a lightning web, I felt like Frankenstein or some   
         newly powered monster.
Plus the floor was glossy as ice. Even rammed head-on,
         the rubber bumper bounced you off unhurt
and into other folks who didn’t mind the jolt, whose faces
         all broke smiles, in fact,
till the perfect figure-eight I’d started out to execute
         became itself an interruption. One face   
after another wheeled shining at me from the dark,
         each bearing the weight of a whole self.   
What pure vessels we are, I thought, once our skulls
         shut up their nasty talk.
We drove home past corn at full tassel, colossal silos,   
         a windmill sentinel. Summer was starting.
My son’s body slumped like a grain sack against mine.   
         My chest was all thunder.
On the purple sky in rear view, fireworks unpacked—silver   
         chrysanthemum, another in fuchsia,
then plum. Each staccato boom shook the night. My son
         jerked in his sleep. I prayed hard to keep   
the frail peace we hurtled through, to want no more
         than what we had. The road
rushed under us. Our lush planet heaved toward day.   
         Inside my hand’s flesh,
anybody’s skeleton gripped the wheel.

Mary Karr, “County Fair” from Viper Rum. Copyright © 1998 by Mary Karr. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.
Source: Viper Rum (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1998)
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