Born Open

I think most of us come into life this way. Open, free, arms and legs flailing, lungs gulping air and expelling futility. We have no idea of the world until we do. We find it safe or frightening, depending on luck, circumstance, and perhaps fate.

I wonder about children in foreign lands – countries that seem always on the brink of civil unrest. How must it feel to fear the night, to keep one’s head down during daylight hours, to roam the streets with armed guards patrolling every block? Yet somehow growing up, I became imprisoned inside myself. I admit this because I hardly think I am alone. Half of me pulled inward while the other part learned how to play the outside game. I wonder how many never reconcile these disjointed factions, once maturity liberates us from the need to placate them.

How often have I repeated Scene I, Take II, over and over again? My story, and unknowingly I stuck by it. For years. Was I attempting to reinvent the past, to right innumerable wrongs? Did I simply forget to ad lib? How attached the guileless seem to the script we have been handed through no fault or direction of our own, as if the gods struck stage marks and we are loathe to step away.

Is free will a disease? For, although I possessed a plethora of choices all along once I attained adulthood, contagion seemingly took forever. But oh, when it caught on! It was like clamping my eyes shut and praying to grab the most fragrant, the loveliest bridal bouquet; watching in disbelief as it sailed right through the molecules of sky, straight into my eager hands.

copyright Bela Johnson

5 thoughts on “Born Open



    Here I am
    With a story
    Without a beginning, without an end, without a story
    But here I am
    I came here
    With my fine circus
    With my elephants, my clowns, my highwire
    And my fleas
    No – now my memory fails me too
    I never had fleas till I came here
    With my circus in a bag on my back
    In the country my circus was a rage
    Everyone came
    Everyone marvelled and took something home
    But then I came to the city
    Spying out the land
    And all those people
    Rushing back and forth
    I don’t know
    Frightened me somehow
    With their beards and monocles
    Their sweaters and nylon stockings
    Frightened me somehow
    And I clung on to my bag
    To keep my circus quiet
    Out of sight till the time came


    How old was I when you gave me my circus?
    Pleased at first as children are
    Then awed, ecstatic, angry, indignant, blind with rage and screaming as I learned
    All the time learning
    I remember the accidents
    Fire in the stables roasting horses like chickens
    Young girls missing the net to explode like wine glasses
    I couldn’t close my eyes
    Saw every hurt
    Felt blood flow
    And all the time learning my trade
    Until you should make me master of the ring
    Good times too
    Delivering foals at 3 a.m.
    Lovers holding hands a hundred feet up
    The clown risking his life when the lion got loose
    All the stories the artistes had to tell
    All the time learning
    Learning my trade
    For I was to announce them and their stories
    In the city
    And here
    Here I was


    I have been proud in my life
    I have had to learn not to thank you for making me like this
    Not to thank you I am not as other men
    But now as a reward
    Please please
    Let me be like them
    I was too prudent
    I did not book a hall
    I did not light lights
    Hang up posters
    Parade them through the town
    I kept them quiet
    Out of sight till the time came
    I was too prudent
    It was a wet November
    The streets reflected the lights
    And clung to my shoes
    I huddled in cafés
    Slept in alleys
    I bought drinks for people I thought might like circuses
    Made them my friends
    I told them anecdotes
    I spent years at it
    I learned to speak
    To make people laugh by keeping a straight face
    And by crying to make them cry
    But many didn’t understand me


    And some – some I trusted
    Thought ill of me
    That my stories were lies
    Were all mine
    In some way “my opinion”
    And cost me more years of learning
    For only a fool is angry when no one listens
    And no one listens to a fool
    So now I am an old fool
    But I heard – I saw those stories
    They belong to me
    To you
    To the people who drank my drinks
    And would not listen
    I was too prudent
    And too foolish
    I have spent all my money
    I have sold everything to buy people drinks
    My elephants, my clowns, my highwire
    All I have left are my fleas
    I would ask you to book a hall for me
    To light lights
    Hang up posters
    To buy back my animals and parade them through the town
    But I am afraid
    For you would refuse
    I would ask you if my fleas are enough
    But I am afraid
    For you would say yes

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