Spotlight: The Circus

The last time I went to the circus

was also the first day
a boy fingered me behind
the stacks of old smelling innertubes
at the pool on the corner of Thirty-second.
He scooped his finger in and out
in and out
like he was looking for
something like the bottom,
and even hours later,
I could feel the scratch of his nail.

At the circus,

My parents dragged me along,
my sister swinging between them,
like a ball of chewed up gum
connecting the sidewalk and a shoe
in sinewy, stretchy strands.


She cried,
fat tears sliding down her cheeks,
it’s all too much,
she was thrilled with just the smell of it.

But I was thinking
When do you start to notice
that all circuses smell the same?
The burnt popcorn, the salty rubber canvas.
The lingering sweetness of candy floss
languidly moving against a long white stick.

I left them,

my parents and my sister

when I saw the man at his cart.
Cherry mango, please, I said.
He packed the little cup with ice
and tarnished it with sugar.
He held it out to me between
fingers calloused and nails
tinged with saccharine dye.
He told me three twenty-five,

I only had two fifty.

I shuffled my finger through my coin purse,
moving it round and round,
slowly rustling the silver,
trying to find what
I was so sure had been there before.

When I couldn’t,
the man put down the cup.
He looked me up and down.
He asked,
Aren’t you too old to cry at the circus?

Chelsea Asher is a writer and teacher, living in Queens. She is a graduate of the Writing MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College and is the co-host of An Angry Reading Series. She is currently at work on a collection about girlhood.