One Poem by Thomas E Simmons

Written in response to this month’s Special Challenge.

Browning in Blackface

At 15 Tod Browning
ran away from Kentucky to join the circus

Fell in love with a trapeze girl
That cooled quick but he stayed with the tents

(Later he’d befriend D.W. Griffith
Settle in Hollywood
Direct sideshow films
like Freaks and Unholy 3)

Here’s a surviving photograph of him
in blackface from the early circus years:

His eyes meet the viewer’s full-on
and you search in ’em for regret
Villainy –
Something in ’em but

All that there is is song and dance
in his glance; his diurnal glance
working cash, makeshift chance

One who barked marks into shows
conducted pickpockets
mastered thaumaturgies
sang some numbers
some of ’em minstrel shows

Some of ’em others
One game or another

Because within those
pixelating billowing tents
was everything in the world


Thomas E. Simmons is a lawyer and a professor at the University of South Dakota School of Law where he teaches about trusts, wills, inheritance, and wealth-transfer taxes. His poems have been published, inter alia, in North Dakota Quarterly, Nebo, and El Portal.

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