The Bearded Lady
She admits to a little coloring
to make her gift stand out. That's how
she thinks of it now—a gift.
She remembers when it began—
the fever that kept her in bed for days,
that made her too weak
to pluck out the errant hairs of her chin
or to apply the depilatory cream
to her upper lip. After she was better,
there was a fine patina across her face,
and when she kissed him, her husband
remarked on how soft it was.
He said that she should let it grow,
that he really didn't mind, that in fact
he liked it. Who cared what
the checkout magazines had to say
about beauty? It was the beginning
of their happiest time. But then
her husband died, and the circus came
to town, removing her from her grief
as deftly as a scalpel. Now
she endures the snickers, the occasional
request to give it a tug. She obliges them.
No one has ever pulled too hard
and the tips are always better
when they've given her a touch. It makes her
think of Thomas, how he must have been
the hardest-working Apostle
after fingering the holy wounds.
Charles Rafferty's eleventh collection of poems is The Smoke of Horses (forthcoming from BOA Editions). His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, O, Oprah Magazine, and Prairie Schooner, and are forthcoming in Ploughshares. His stories have appeared in The Southern Review and Per Contra, and his story collection is called Saturday Night at Magellan's. Currently, he directs the MFA program at Albertus Magnus College.