28 July 2005 | Vol. 5, No. 2

The Smallest Woman in the World

All anyone can handle behind the partition

is a brief glance; you know immediately

she won't live long: body a fourth

of our bodies, cut off below the chest,

legs hanging like cloth. African, late teens,

how aborted the insides must be.

I laid my dollar down beneath the loudspeaker,

the barker a fake step right up

to be shocked and amazed,

the recording turns endlessly, only 29 inches tall.

Not knowing what to do, having never paid

to stare, I said Hello, and she ducked her head

bracing for the next horrible thing.

In my grade school there was a girl

born without pores, unable

to produce body oil, skin a constant red,

flaking in huge scales. A few brown hairs

grown long with a red bow. People assumed

she was burned as a child.

And the boy in my class who went,

over the course of a semester, totally blind,

by his 16th birthday he was in

a different school, learning to walk with a cane,

read Braille. What of them?

Who decides how much pain

is worth a dollar? When you step back out

the shrieks return from the funhouse,

the Ferris wheel rises up in the dark

and falls again, and the tilt-a-whirl

gives us a single human blur.

When he was taken from school, the teacher

explained the disease, how light was going out

in his eyes, dimming to complete darkness,

the last light just a small, distant hole.

She sits in a red wooden chair, shawl

over her knees. Imagine an adult

crammed into a baby-sized body, everything

that would break off. I wanted to save her,

but there's no such thing.

Although you've paid to look, you must turn away.

About the author:

Craig Beaven has a BA in English from the University of Kentucky and an MFA in Creative Writing from Virginia Commonwealth University. His book reviews and interviews are regularly featured in Blackbird. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in DIAGRAM, Limestone Review, Nidus, and Notre Dame Review.

For further reading:

See the complete list of work by Craig Beaven at 42opus. Browse the contents of 42opus Vol. 5, No. 2, where "The Smallest Woman in the World" ran on July 28, 2005. List other work with these same labels: poetry.

42opus is an online magazine of the literary arts.

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