Burning Down the Carousel

was not my idea, but watching paint peel back
from the white horse’s strained face was as shocking
as opening the shower door to my mother’s
naked body when I was eleven

and even then I knew enough about the world
to understand those wooden horses had lives beyond
their worn down saddles, their chipped glass eyes
that lasted longest in the carousel’s losing fight

with flames, the calliope hitting its brass death notes
as it collapsed to the floor, smoke stinging our own eyes
where we hid behind the Fun House, its clown face
long fallen or dragged away by vandals

like most everything else at this abandoned park.
The gas and lighter Dod stole from his dad after
he was too drunk to notice, and then we
circled the park for hours, hopping fences

breaking into the Haunted House where every skeleton
lay smashed already, spray painted names marked
where older boys lashed out at their youth
or carved their history into fake coffins and ticket booths,

until finally we came to the carousel, leaning hard
on wheels burst from dry rot and years of cotton candy
stuffed riders, the ghosts of children hanging tight, trying
to catch the brass ring, a quick wave and hand clap

from mothers beyond the rail. I swear Dod was crying
when he drenched the white stallion with gas, lit the bear
and tiger, then tossed the can into the creek—
the first flames crawling over a silver mane

like a praying mantis looking for the softest tissue
between head and body, where in the last act of love
it plants its mouth, cutting off the head, devouring
the flesh, leaving behind a shell it will soon forget.

Grant Clauser lives in Hatfield Pennsylvania. He has two books: Necessary Myths (winner of the 2013 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize) and The Trouble with Rivers (Foothills Publishing). His poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Cheat River Review, Tar River Poetry, Southern Poetry Review, and others. He also writes about electronics, teaches poetry at random places and chases trout with a stick. Read his blog at www.uniambic.com.