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.