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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Number 328: Douglas Gray "Space Aliens Found Performing In Carnival Freak Shows"

Space Aliens Found Performing In Carnival Freak Shows

In 1920, my great-aunt Jane
hopped a midnight freight
and ran away from home
to sing on a New York stage.
She was only sixteen.
The family took her photograph
off the grand piano
and never again spoke her name.
Later, they grew lonely for her voice.

At sixteen I shimmied down
the same drainpipe Jane had used
and took off to see the fair.
That's where I met
the light-bulb boy from Neptune,
the lizard-woman of the Moon,
the human razor blade from some galactic swirl
and other artists of the weird.
All of them had hopped
midnight rockets off their worlds.

All artists come from outer space.
Like my great-aunt Jane,
they're just looking for some place
where gravity won't hold them down.

So parents– let your children
have their voices. Let them
have their feathers and their flesh.
Let your daughters and your sons
have their pens, their paints,
their music and their hearts.

Let them tattoo jackals on their thighs
and dance with the lawn furniture.
Let them drum so loud that the sound
shatters watermelons in your garden.

Ask them to play on,
because these children come from Mars.
Tell them they're welcome here on earth.
Tell them it's good to be strange.
Tell them they don't need to hop that freight.

-- Douglas Gray

Hap Notes;
Anyone who has chosen to live the creative life knows the feeling of being an alien in the midst of their family and peers. The brave ones run away from home, the less brave just feel tortured and miserable. There is a school of thought that says these experiences fuel the artist. This seems to me to be a load of, uh, mendacity. Those with creative inclinations will still have them and will, in fact flourish in an accepting atmosphere. A place where they are allowed to be creative will save them years of therapy, self-doubt and depression. There will always be things in the world to be tortured about– it doesn't have to be your own life.

This poem is from Douglas Gray's remarkable prize-winning book of poems, Words on the Moon. He grew up in Mississippi, got degrees in English Literature and classical languages and now teaches in Columbus, Ohio. and leads a website matching writers with writing projects in the South Central Ohio area.

Most of us eventually come to realize that it is, indeed, good to be strange. However, a world that accepts strangeness is a world that could be filled with beauty, interesting music, extraordinary literature and revelatory films and less angst. If all a person has to give the world is angst, that's not art. It could be sensitivity, it could be fine appreciation but art is not solely bred from angst– it just looks that way from the way creatives get treated.

I don't think I know one musician or artist or writer who has not felt as though they were probably from another planet, if not literally, then surely figuratively. They are just looking for a place where gravity (think of the meanings of this word carefully) won't hold them down.

Do you think the poet feels like, this, too?

The masthead today is a detail of The Magic Circus by contemporary surrealist painter Mark Ryden. 

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