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Circus Music

Leigh Stein

Count back by sevens beginning with the last number
you remember. I'll wait, said the Serbian Jew to the lame girl

who blushed at her wet shoes. West 72nd Street was a puddle
from Broadway to the Hudson and the traffic came and returned.

In Brooklyn you could lay in the street in front of the hospital
and not die. Sixty-three, she said, like a question of him.

For the last eleven hours I had worn a feathered headband
and taken dictation from a woman in Utah. I wanted

to know what had happened to the girl's leg, but I was also
thirsty. He had to know. If I were him I'd ask her every day.

The night the circus marches the elephants through midtown,
the girl would say, have you ever been? Yes, I would say,

once. Well, she would say. No. Yes. No. She might say
it wasn't an accident. Pretend to hold a knife in your hand

and people will think it's your own. Her cane was on my foot,
but I stood still. Fifty-six and forty-nine. If she had picked

a larger number to begin with, I could have stood with the cane
on my foot forever. I was so cold then; I wore so many hats.

Can I get you something? His yarmulke was secured to his head
with gold hairpins. No, I said. I don't know what I want, I said.

The girl stopped counting and apologized for her cane. Don't
apologize, I said. Please, I said. It was a lion, she said. Forty-two,

I said, right? It was a land mine. I didn't ask, I said. It was my mother,
she said, in our bathroom. Thirty-five? It was me. I did it. It was me.

Leigh Stein

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