Before the Show Began

Maxwell Stenson, California State University, Sacramento


BEFORE THE SHOW BEGAN he said, I just noticed my shoes are white, yours
black, and I’m black and you’re—yes, something lighter. Back in our trailer after the
show, shedding our white face powder and multicolored wigs, stowing red noses in
drawers, his observation is confirmed. And all these years together, shoveling elephant
shit and making passes at the bearded lady, I never noticed this fact about our shoes.
Once, we spent a whole night locked in the tiger’s cage—a prank courtesy of her tamer.
While I threw empty peanut shells at Jocko (passed out nearby with a key—the clown
drunk) my companion wielded a footstool should the beast awaken. I didn’t notice it then
either. Even when our comically-sized cloppers needed a spit-shine, the shoe and skin
connection eluded me.

I fell asleep that night to his steady breaths coming from the top bunk. In my dream, we
balanced atop the tightrope locking arms, bracing for a fall. No one ringleader, but
thousands crowded into the stands under the big top: a clamoring of stomping feet, the
din reaching a thunderous climax. Multitudes of stars seemed to light the tent, presence of
the sky unreal and too real, and when I looked down, our feet were four black and white
rats gnawing away at the rope.

Maxwell Stenson is currently pursuing his B.A. at California State University, Sacramento. To say Maxwell is passionate about literature—and more specifically, poetry—is perhaps an understatement. A devout student both in and out of academic environments, Maxwell enjoys expanding upon an ever-growing, eclectic literary education; recently, he has taken great interest in form and theory regarding prose poetry. Outside of these literary pursuits, Maxwell loves hiking, high-brow (pretentious) conversation, and black cats.