“Going with the Carnies” A Campus Equity Poem

the_carnie_life_poster-r3a5b52488ea64e549b38051b90c56486_wg4_8byvr_307

For our poetry reading tonight I decided to write a poem about one Summer night I had when I was 16. It’s not about Adjuncting per se, but it’s about how we lead ourselves into abusive work environments, which is due to either where we’ve been, or how we don’t value ourselves.

I ask that even, if after all the exhortations I have made about doing something for Campus Equity Week, that you still have done nothing, that you at least value yourself.

You are not just the work you do, nor should it ever define you.

Going with the Carnies

Dog day turned dog night,the
summer sultry air was suffocating yet
not enough to cut the tension of getting a
paying gig after a summer of
mowing lawns for free.

Jeff and I waited in the Southgate Lot for Jason,
a guy Jeff said would pay us to help
break the carnival down.

At 9:15 the midway went dark and out
came Jason, 5'2' blue black and hard,
smiling with eyes that cut through
any pretense of care.

"You two look ready to work, that's good because
there's no time to mess around.  Along with you
I got Mike and Earl who just showed up
and if you want pay you'll have to work and
move your ass cause I'm
gonna ride you hard."

Of Mike I only remember stringy hair
like a person who wasn't there but a
shadow to Earl, matted hair, unshaven,
dressed in a stained shirt, pocket holding a
half-crushed pack of Camels--
my age and from the other side.

"Let's start with the kiddie rides--
you two pull the plating, and--we're already behind,
so GO!"

Pulling at the steel plates, with
soft hands and fingernails off the
platform of a race car ride, I
recalled a time at five and

"How come you fuckers aren't done yet?
We need to be out by two! Hump your ass,
I don't have time to fuck with you!"

And so it went from ride to ride, fingers
pinched three times collapsing awnings, hands
cut on the tilt-a-whirl, head smacked on
the octopus--no time for band-aids.

Jason gave it to us in equal parts--
ringmaster, his voice cracked with the
anger of my father, only without the
cuffings of ears--it's perhaps why I, and 
maybe Jeff too endured.  We leaped and
jerked, strained and sweat--
yet no one dared to speak.

Four hours later, we were done,
drenched, black and sore. Jason
harrumphed, sighed, and from his pocket
pulled a thick wad of dollar bills, counting off
eight bills for us four each like a 
seasoned cook peeling an onion.

"Sorry I rode you hard, but then
you should know how it is.  Say...
you guys, you're not so bad,
I could use a team like you."

We walked away, but as we did I
looked back at Earl, now sitting in the
carny van.  Our eyes met just as it rolled
into the black and gone.

I still don't know what I saw.

One thought on ““Going with the Carnies” A Campus Equity Poem

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s