The Winter Carnival - New Haven, Connecticut, 1972 / Michelle Castleberry

                          For Matt DeGennaro

The fried dough vendor made the most money,
handing steaming, golden discs through the window,
while people in line stole heat from the side of the trailer.
The air was too cold to carry the scent
of red sauce and sugar very far.
Folks unloaded themselves from the Tilt-a-Whirl
with frosted eyelashes and blue noses.
A clump of teenagers punched each other warm
and swore the ice on the rails made  the roller coaster go faster.
Wind pouring through the streets gave couples an excuse
to hide their hands in the warmth of each other’s’ coats.
Head hung, the carnival agent counted the same few bills,
watched the same few faces make the rounds.
No one bought lemonade, but the bootlegger
in the black coat poured shots of limoncello and whiskey
for quarters all afternoon behind the animal trailers.
The big cats curled around their own heat in the cage corners,
refusing to rouse even for sausages thrown in by wheedling kids.
An hour before closing the mercury dropped further,
the voices of the dozen people left rose
on the strength of drunken bravery. They willed themselves
to remember the story they were walking in.
Promises and proposals were made, and babies, and beautiful
Legends of inspired impulse that echoed like carousel music.
The bootlegger and his quarters jingled home
under the strobe and throb of starlight and string-lights
duking it out in the December dark.
His wife rubbed his numb ears back to stinging life
as he laughed about ‘Gennaro’s best bad idea
and later fell asleep remembering the sight
he would carry for a lifetime—
of clouds of elephant breath,
fogging over Chapel Street.

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