Prose Poetry: Three County Fairs by Cary Stough

Poetry: Cary Stough

The Year I Lost an Eye

I’m at the county fair riding the Wurlitzer or Accordion when suddenly I want to be on a different ride. Maybe Button Mountain or The Ride. I slide into my seat and wonder, Wurlitzer or accordion. I scratch my chin as the lady comes by to jam the bar firmly between my thighs. Maybe Wurlitzer, because it sounds exotic and a little sexy, too. I wonder if it’s like a sex position. To be honest, the heat of the matter makes me doze a bit. I come to and she’s tying one of my arms above my head. By this point, I’m pretty strapped in to this particular ride. I’m not sure they’d let me go if I asked. And I think, maybe it’s like someone bends you over an organ, fingering your sides like spiders. Excuse me, I say, raising a free arm, but someone else comes and straps that arm down around my crotch. I kick my legs back and forth to seem as if I was ok with waiting for so long. A nervous tick, but now I actually had something to be nervous about. It was true, I didn’t mind the wait. From below me, though, I feel what roughly seemed to be four or five tiny hands gripping the backs of my calves and pulling them back and strapping them there like a hog for slaughter. This was something new, I registered. The ride begins to move. Such quick warm delicate hands they had. How many people work on this ride? I think, are my arms spindly or squat? I don’t remember. I can’t even feel them anymore. I hear some rustling around my ears and then someone puts duct tape over my eyes, so I can’t even see a thing. Someone puts an apple in my mouth, or at least it’s something hard that smells like an apple. I begin to like the ride I’m on. After all, I’m getting fed, you know? What does it matter if I ever got home? It was my first day off in years and I was happy to be sitting down. Before you know it, the rides stop moving. I wake up in a field that used to be the county fair that used to be farmland. This was just the beginning of a bigger, better ride, I thought. Winter. All I can see are stars in the night sky, like a jukebox. On my way home I lose an eye. I can’t even remember which one now. I dream I own my own clothing-optional dance studio called Definitely Accordion where every night is Polka Night and nothing hurt.

The Year I Sat in the Empty Parking Lot Until Dawn Wondering When My Voice Would Change

I was at the county fair and you told me a joke titled Three Priests Walk into a Bar: A priest, a naked priest, & another priest walk into a bar, (the bar is boarded up), the priests talk in low accents & what goes on among them is none of our business. Was the third priest naked, too, or just the second? I asked. Don’t worry about it, you said. So, this bar is said to contain chambers inaccessible by mortal men and women, right? You wouldn’t notice anything special about the bar simply by standing at its one dusty counter, & so this is why God made priests, naked or otherwise. The naked priest shakes sawdust off his ass after falling back hard against the bar’s northern wall. The first priest carves a declaration into the other priest’s arm, a document later referred to as Notes Toward the Establishment of a Code of Ethics to Be Followed by the Company of Lost Souls. Written as it were on the arm of a priest & accordingly recited upon each subsequent meeting of such priest, whether in a dim or light-inviting land, it was a temporary dictum at best, but followed strictly. I’m thinking of a word that signifies an object that is repeatedly energized, as if by catharsis or electricity. Could you help me think of it? I’ll try to think of it, I said, and when I think of it, I’ll let you know. Oh, why did the first priest have to go & do such a tremendously horrid thing? Do what? I asked. Oh, I don’t know. Why do the supple ones wander while we stand in the rain? So, I told you about the time three priests walked into a bar, right? Yes, I said, one of them carves a sort of holy script into the arm of another. Thereby cursing the whole order of priests, you said, those to come and even those who had already died and gone to heaven. I know all about it … Utterance of the unspoken word is its disappearance, yes yes yes yes yes. What do you want from me, an autograph? What? I asked. What about the third priest, was he naked, too? You shrugged your left shoulder and my left arm unhinged. You’ve never been alone & I love that about you. From the parking lot, I heard the various ringing of bells. But I was alone.

The Year I Apparently Didn’t Ride The Ride

I was at the county fair and spent my last ticket to ride the ride eponymously called The Ride. Here is what we’ve been waiting for, I thought. The Ride. To be honest, I didn’t even get on. I just watched the red cars glide. I took a swig of root beer and waited for the next line of cars. Children piled in from outside behind me on the platform. The red cars returned and still I felt compelled not to ride The Ride. Maybe I was blocking these kids, I thought, but when I stepped to turn the kids weren’t there. I watched the second train of cars depart. A whistle sounded, but sounded like a ghost whistle, not a train whistle, even though I just said “train of cars.” This was it, I thought, finally. I’m watching The Ride go on and on in an endless loop of red blur and whistle and I’ve been waiting my whole life for this. It’s moments like this I spend so many tickets in the first place. I could waste a whole summer here. Never have to go back to the factory or pine for lost objects, looking at the wall. The first cars returned and relaunched like a memory. I could waste what remained of my once perfect vision here, staring at the vibrating track and the dark clouds now collecting beneath them, pouring from somewhere beneath the platform. The cars hadn’t returned for quite a while and I doubted whether I was even there anymore, waiting to ride The Ride. But that was crazy. Of course I was there. The kids piled in behind me again. I couldn’t turn if I wanted to it was so crowded now. Also the clouds were pressing around and I could barely see. I could suddenly smell the dirty hands of all those children. Like they’d been working all day outside, they had outside hands. So this must be the grand finale, I thought, what the workers see after everyone’s gone. I heard what I still think was the sound of the second train of cars but I’m not sure. Then I heard the whistle again, the ghost whistle. This time, I knew I was determined to ride The Ride. Or I thought I was. I couldn’t move. I must have stayed too long. The child-laborers needed me out of there. Maybe earlier they were trying to encourage me, give me a little confidence boost, but I didn’t have the courage or was too hot and full of root beer to move. Sometimes I feel like a very large map lain out across the whole river valley, touching every green and fluid thing. This is exactly how I’m not supposed to feel. I closed my eyes and I wake up here in what used to be a Civil War battlefield, and what used to be the county fair. There’s probably a while before it returns but I’ll be ready. In the coming months I’ll regain my strength by playing baseball. I’ll walk up to the front of the line and prove I’m innocent enough. Finally living my best life, and at the same time, somehow much more than alive.

Cary Stough is a Missouri poet living elsewhere. He holds an MFA in Literary Arts at Brown University. His other work can be found in Inter|rupture: a journal of poetry and art, Twelfth House, and Queen Mob’s Teahouse.


Check out HFR’s book catalog, publicity list, submission manager, and buy merch from our Spring store. Follow us on Instagram and YouTube.