Luisa A. Igloria

The Summer Carnival

Summers, the football field that bordered Burnham
Lake transformed into a carnival—canvas tents
streaked with dust; midgets and untidy animals


unpacked and left to sit, blinking, in the sun; until
someone remembered to send a boy for water, or caught
the smell of soured droppings on clipped


grass. I imagined their sometimes month-
long journeys in trucks that labored grimly
uphill, stopping for three days, a week—in town


after little town—coupling and dismantling gears
and axles; the creaking bucket seats of Ferris
wheels, man-size teacups, wobbly red-and-yellow


ponies on merry-go-rounds, assembled by smiths
and plumbers out of work. Moving on, they pushed
farther north, past yawning gorges. Streams of water,


thinned to shallow plates, revealed the copper undersides
of stones as the air lightened and chilled, grew heady. Later,
in town we read the gaudy, hand-lettered cardboard


signs—Delilah, Diviner of Palms and Fortunes,
The Man Who Eats Fire, Rubber Band Boy. Jungle Man
Will Eat Live Rooster
—and we gawked


and jeered, crossed ourselves or looked away,
recognizing the gift of our own private
deformities. Mermaid, Boy


with Fish Scales—they lay on their sides at night,
dreaming on mattresses that crackled and foamed with straw
and saffroned the air around them with chalky dust. Nothing


here was merely just a trick of light or mirrors. We knew
those costumes of pockmarked skin, the extra finger or half-
sewn eye, the stumps kept as souvenirs of accidents


or births. I saw the rooster man eat from a tin
plate, then, like everyone in the lunch tent, use knife
and fork to spear chunks of chayote swimming


in vegetable broth. When night fell, white sheets
were knotted and draped over a billboard frame and bodies
packed the field to watch the screen fill with black-


and-white images: Tarzan and the Apes, dusky-eyed
Valentino as turbaned sheikh, beaded fringes on flapper
girls’ skirts; The Three Stooges clanking over broken


ladders and pails; the tramp with the bowler
hat and baggy pants—sad beyond words—
shuffling away down the darkened avenue.




“The Summer Carnival” first appeared in New Letters, summer 2003, and is from Trill & Mordent (WordTech Editions, 2005).