“On October, 1983, on two vacant lots in Paradise Valley, two teams of 300 workers furiously constructed two three-bedroom houses in the breakneck time of 2 hours, 52 minutes and 31 seconds.”
—Jeffrey Miller, Los Angeles Times
“Philip Astley (1742 – 1814) is considered the creator of the modern circus. On August 16, 1794, while he was serving abroad, Astley’s London amphitheatre burned to the ground.”
I have never been to the circus but have witnessed
my workplace burn vulgar to the ground.
In Delaware, I sat late on the beach and heard my phone
ping with my coworkers letting me know the place was toast.
I can’t now remember how I got there, perched in the parking
lot, watching the wood write itself gone.
How we move from POINT A to POINT B
is no mystery. Sometimes it takes less than three hours.
Here: I could map it out for you on a hundred-
dollar bill, illustrate the ways we move on and off
paper, kinetic, from serial number to watermark.
We could have a record of our spent time.
I could light the bill on fire and watch
the edges neon into nothing, disappear
and become an anecdote we’ll share at dinner.
If we speak the same language as fire—expose
our intent and destruction, make ourselves look
beautiful in the procedure—then I need
a new word for burning. This is how we
move from point to point. I am saying our decay
is linked like eggshells on a string
to all the ruin that devised us, warned us
of its wreck. Like a revolver, and if history
repeats itself, and if we are fixed, if always,
in the past tense, we churn in our public chamber,
taking turns débuting ourselves.
In Phoenix, my coworker ate fire. Or rather, breathed it.
He would perform on his off nights.
My point: I have never seen Astley’s Amphitheatre, but know
how things burn. I have never been able
to distinguish between kinetic and potential
energy. Light is still light if I am not using it.
At some point, a house burning is a house burnt.
If we ever had a fire, I would fight off the firemen--so we
settle easily into loss before it arrives. You see:
there are positive and negative brands of loss
and so I mourn the places I now enter
virtually, singed to memory, real and unreal.
What I am saying is I have never been to the circus, but amuse
myself with the stories of it.
There are different types of fire. I love the smell
of burning sage, throw old photographs of old lovers
into flames. What I am saying is there are ways for us
to move so elegantly through the world never
knowing the ash-trails we may leave. We are obtainable.
And we refer to some wealth
as unobtainable, that it will not exist for us: the ones
and zeros offshore that liquify into their
surrounding islands. How that wealth
is both clicks and miles away.
Sometimes we are clicks or miles away. How
might I measure the distance between my own debts?
I have never been afraid to admit what
I lack. I have never been afraid to admit
my fear of heights. In my childhood, I propelled
myself off swing sets not yet understanding the jeopardies
of vertical distance. Took dares for couch-found coins. Burned
ants with a glass. I have never been to the circus but
have lived in homes built just for me. My father, careful
with his hands, formed a place we would regard warmly.
How we trick the eye to excuse our faults--He told me
to just put a chair in the corner and you wouldn’t
even notice it. He said to put something on it
to camouflage things so nobody would notice--
the fissures that exposed themselves in a week’s time:
crooked doors, foundations askew.
And all around us, the world falls like baby birds
from glued twigs. It is nothing revolutionary.
In Delaware, the restaurant rebuilt in months, sharing
the old footprint. It sits on a party of ash.
The show goes on.
About This Unit: Poems on Family and Finding Other Lines of Symmetry
CAROLINE CHAVATEL is the author of White Noises (Greentower Press, 2019), which won the Laurel Review’s 2018 Midwest Chapbook Contest. Her work has appeared in AGNI, Sixth Finch, Foundry, Ninth Letter, and Poetry Northwest, among others. She is co-founding editor of the Shore, an editor at Madhouse Press, and is currently a PhD student at Georgia State University where she is poetry editor of New South.