The Blue Hole Summer Fair, set up and spread out like a butterfly pinned down on paper. Twin bright-lit wings, identically shaped (and fenced) and sized.

    This side holds the waffled-tin (and oven-hot) huts of the Home Arts Booths and Contests, the hay-sweet display-cages for the 4-H livestock, the streamer-hung display-stages where girl-beauties twirl and try for queen. There's rosette-luster (and -lusting), and the marching band wearing a hole in Sousa. And (pursed) gaggles and clutches of feather-white neighbor-women, eyeballing us like we're pig's feet in a jar.
                         I wonder does her boy talk Chinese?
                                           You ever seen that kind of black-headed?
                                                             Blue shine all in it like a crow.

    This other wing (the one I'm back-sneaking, side-slipping, turnstiling into) dips and slopes down to low-lying marsh-mire: whiffs of pluff-mud stink and live gnat-pack poison, carnie-cots and -trailers camped on ooze. They've got (rickety) rides, and tent-shows with stains, and rackety bare-bulbed stalls of Hoop-La Game (RING-A-COKE!) and Rebel Yell and Shoot the Gook Down. Stand here, on this smutch-spot: don't these mirrors show you strange?

    Crowds are gathering. Yonder there and down, the yolk-glow of a tent is drawing men on (and in) the way a car-crash does, or a cockfight sure enough, or neon. The ticket-boy's getting mobbed at the fly of the door.
         No sign in sight, except for the X of the Dixie-flag ironed across his t-shirt.
         I am bone-broke but falling into line.
         The men upwind of me are leaking chaw-spit and pennies.
         That, plus the eye-hunger spreading like a rumor through the swarm.
         The rib-skinny doorkeeper's hollering: bet now, bout's bout startin!
         Over his shoulder, a ropy yellow light.
         Also: circles of white tobacco-smoke, and bleacher-rows of (cooncalling) men who know my daddy.
         —And there he is, up in front with some tall man, iron-arming two black-chested boys toward the ring.
More Poems by Atsuro Riley