Volume 68, Number 2 · Spring 2019

Run Night 87: Mauldin Cultural Center, Mauldin, SC

While Grimaldi was in the act of drawing out the pistol,
the trigger by some accident caught in the loop of his boot,
into which (the muzzle being downwards) its contents
were immediately discharged. The boot itself puffed out
to a great size, presenting a very laughter-moving
appearance to everybody but the individual in it, who was
suffering the most excruciating agony.

           —Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi

O First Great Joe, again they’ve put me back
inside a room with nothing but some cinder
blocks, some sandwiches about to rot, and cheap
red wine to warm up with. Eighty-seven nights.
Two hundred shows, or something close to that.
The lights to count them by went out forever ago.
Last night, this center hosted an open mic
night for the high school. Now it’s ours. The stage
sags like a limpdick pickle in the middle.
I don’t know, though, Joe. Back in Tucson,
a local guy who volunteered to watch
the stage entrance brought with him his fully
automatic rifle, said he didn’t mind
to act if action was required, and then
winked at the understudy having her
pre-show smoke. Gave her a pair of finger-
guns. Pow-Pow, he said. Like with clowns, you
should always laugh along with the guy who
brings to the show a way to end the show,
and so she did. Laugh, I mean. Like ammo,
it ricocheted across the parking lot.
She stubbed out her cigarette and shot
inside. Good kid, but no one wants to tell
her she should call off the acting life. Hell,
who shouldn’t, really? Never you, Joe.
The night you accidentally shot up
your foot, the whole of London slept with tears
like crystal powder on their pillows. Now,
we half-expect most shows to end with bullets,
no matter if they’re blanks. It’s just the way
things are, FGJ. After she went back
inside, I asked if I could hold his gun,
and when he said okay, I looked inside
the barrel, made a honking noise, and gave
it back. Dumbshit, he said. In this way, I got
my stage name. Dumbshit, the Clown King, a one-time
show only, sold-out, a real explosive, knock-
em-dead experience. Take last night’s show—
please. Someone in the back of the theater
just started screaming. Not words, just a long
wall of sound. The scene he interrupted
is where the ingenue and I decide
to visit Partry at his hovel, try
to get him back to Pedrolino’s room.
It’s all a ruse, of course, a way to make
Act Three make sense, but once it started, I
had nothing but the silence in me to
work with, and no one harmonizes like
that anymore. An usher came, removed
the man and led him out by the small cone
of a flashlight, back outside, where he could
explain to every little star what he couldn’t
explain to himself: that falling out of love
with yourself happens without any words
to help it make a kind of sense. But still,
dear Joe, you know the saying: shows go on,
and on and on and on and on. Tonight,
the green room’s slick with condensation from
the AC unit. What I didn’t tell
the guy with the gun is that, inside the barrel,
I saw oil blooming like a field of geese,
all the way down into the chamber, and just
like any chamber worth its spit, I could
have stayed there, picking from the space which parts
I think would look a little better in
a darker mauve, a slap of paint the color
of someone bleeding from the nose with a full
spotlight on them, an empty, blackened stage
around that, and no one there left to clap.

Oh Joe, there’s hardly any reason left to clap.

Patrick Whitfill’s poems and reviews appear or are forthcoming in the Threepenny Review, the Kenyon Review, Cherry Tree, West Branch, and other journals. Currently, he teaches at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina.