A Clown at Midnight: Poems

A Clown at Midnight: Poems

by Andrew Hudgins


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780544108806
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 06/11/2013
Pages: 91
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

ANDREW HUDGINS is the author of several books of poems, including Saints and Strangers, The Glass Hammer, and Ecstatic in the Poison. A finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, he is a recipient of Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships as well as the Harper Lee Award. He is a professor emeritus of Ohio State University.

Read an Excerpt

A Joke Is Washed Up on a Desert Island

A joke is washed up on an island,
miles of coarse, brown grit
and a few bent palms. He’s thrilled. Alone,
he’ll stroll the beach or sit
mulling the gray surf and his life.
He believes he’s kept the sacred
sacred by profaning it.
But words and stories sped
so quickly from his raucous mouth
he hardly thought about them.
Alone, he’ll study doubts he’s had
since on a dubious whim
he swaggered into that first brothel,
first bar and first bar mitzvah,
first monastery. What angry hope
or compulsive mania
flung him on the judgment of friends
and strangers: a laugh or silence?
He’d never paused to mull things over,
and though thinking’s a nuisance,
it’s time to think. He sits, considers,
and the teasing sea deposits
a naked beauty at his feet — 
a movie star. Huge tits?
Or small? Full lips or thin? You
Whatever turns your crank,
that’s what floats up. And then two more,
beautiful, blond, and blank.
They swirl around him, asking, “Is that
a banana in your pocket?”
Smart women whoring for a joke!
And all at once he gets it:
the human cost of laughter. It pains him.
The people he’s offended,
they’re human, unlike him, a concept
he’d never comprehended — 
a reverie of thick self-pity
that’s broken by a shout
of “Help me! Help me!” from the waves.
Annoyed, the joke swims out
and finds an armless, legless man
bobbing in the spray.
“I’m Bob. Remember me?” Bob shouts.
The joke saves him anyway.
The joke has always hated Bob,
the lamest slip of wit,
and now Bob’s propped on the joke’s beach,
choking and spraying spit.
The joke stares down the empty sand,
listening hopelessly
for the peace he’d hoped to find. He drags
Bob back into the sea.
At first Bob bobs, but head held under,
he blubbers, bubbles, drowns.
This joke’s a killer. He looks out to sea,
sees what he sees, and frowns.
The waves are pitching with old punch lines,
washing, like Natalie Wood,
ashore. They couldn’t live without him,
although he’d hoped they could.
As each one staggers from the waves,
it asks, “Where’s Bob?” The joke
says, “He’ll turn up.” Why are they asking?
Who cares about that jerk?
He’s got to blow this island, man.
He jumps into the sea.
But he’s my joke. I send a shark
and the shark chomps off one knee.
He keeps on kicking at the waves.
The shark chomps off both legs.
“Very funny!” screams the joke. “So now
I’m Bob. Come on,” he begs.
“Let me be Art!” Tear out this page
and pin it to your wall:
He’s Art. Or throw it on the floor.
Bingo, he’s Matt. Your call.
But I like the turning point of jokes.
He’ll bob, but he won’t sink.
Let’s leave him there to meditate.
The shark will help him think.
Three pale blonds gather on the beach
to watch him flail. In moonlight
their roots turn dark, their hair turns black.
Their eyes are old-moon white.
Birth of a Naturalist
Among moist bromeliads
I was bored, and the soft-fingered
ferns annoyed me like an aunt
touching my face and trailing
her fingers down my cheek.
What was I, a possession?
In the gift shop where I desired
nothing, a stranger confused
boredom for balked desire
and bought me a small pot
with a blunt nub, like a toad’s
brown snout, jutting
from dry soil. “Thank you,” I said.
“Thank you,” as I’d been taught,
and she departed, a plump whorl
of black hair and red scarves.
In my pocket, the pot rode
my thigh like a damp stone,
and because it was a secret,
my secret, I began to love it.
The next day the toad’s
tumescent snout, now mossy green,
cracked the packed dirt.
On the windowsill a rickety stalk
rose and kept rising, rising
until it fell into my bed,
and with the toppled orchid in my arms,
I slept until Mother’s laughter
woke me, and I was shamed.
Again in secret, I tucked
its roots in spongy humus
beyond our lawn, where, spindly
and limp-leafed, it dwindled.
Now when I stretch out
over its absence, the coarse
vigor of its killers cushions me,
and I see the lost
orchid animating bracken,
buckthorn, buttercup, and bramble.
Morning glory overclimbs it all,
green on green, blaring
its beautiful and murderous
alabaster trumpets
while twizzling vines unfurl,
spin in sunlight, and, clutching,
caress my face.

First Year Out of School
A man . . . may have wild birds in an aviary; these in one sense he possesses, and in another he has none of them.
          — Plato, Theaetetus

I fingered flannel shirts
and wrinkled seed potatoes,
derelict in dusty bins,
but bought a birdcage,
white paint peeling off
corroded wire. For weeks
it crowded my bedside table
until, walking to work,
I heard baby rabbits
mewing in a hole. Later,
at my desk, I watched a crow
ferry three gray lumps
to an oak limb and pick them
into red strings. In one
imagined life, I caught
that crow and taught it Blake —
Little Lamb, who made thee?
In another, I gleaned raw corn
from nearby fields at night,
fed it to the strident crow,
and every night after work
cleaned its fetid cage.
In this life, I sold the cage
for a quarter what I paid,
and moved to a city where,
on the street one Monday morning,
a man chanted, “Spare
change, spare change,
spare change,” so rote
that like everyone before me
I didn’t bother saying no.
I was no different. Why then
did he block my path
and offer me a matted,
damp, dark thing —
a hatchling half held,
half nestled in his beard?
And why did I linger over
the unfledgeable lump?
“No,” I said, pushing past,
but after an hour I returned
and with five grubby ones
paid for the epiphany
he’d led me to: I yearn for flight,
but believe in the two
reliable slow feet
on which I stood, receiving
from his hands unto mine
a gasping, unsalvable mouth.

Table of Contents



A Joke Is Washed Up on a Desert Island 3
Birth of a Naturalist 7
First Year Out of School 9
A Clown at Midnight 11
In the Arboretum 12
I Saw My Shadow Walking 13
In Arcadia, the Home of Pan 15
Steppingstone 17
The Offices 19
Autumn’s Author 20


At Evening, Eden 23
Mattress under Sumac 25
Swordfish 26
Fairy Tale with Ex-Wife 27
Star Jasmine 29
Laid Off 30
At the DMV 32
Princess after Princess 33
In the Lounge 34
There, There 36
Visiting an Old Love 38
Under the Maypole 39
Love Poem 40
Foresworn 42
The Wild Swans Skip Coole 43


A Mystery 47
The Humor Institute 49
Jesus Loved His Body 50
Self-Portrait as a Family 51
Now and Almost Now 53
The School Bell 54
Birthday Cake 55
The Mezzanine 56
Wigwam Village 57
The Imagined Copperhead 59
Welder’s Smoke 60
Suddenly Adult 61
Two Bourbons Past the Funeral 62
Orpheus in the Garden 63
Lord Byron’s Boots 64
Our Wars 65
Summer of ’09 66
Death Mask of Sargon 67
Stalin’s Laughter 68
The Return of the Magi 69


Villanelle with a Refrain from the Wall Street Journal 73
Night Harvest 74
In a Distant Room 75
Broadcasting Winter Rye 77
Bess 78
March 79
The Funeral Sermon 80
Harvest 82
Having Labored All Night 83
Grand Expensive Vista 84
Bryce Hospital: The Old Cemetery 86
Fleeing Time 89
Beyond My Footfall 91
Acknowledgments 93

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