Sarah Layden

The Tax Clown

The funeral procession
is the final vestige of civility
on the American road, and still
I honked. The driver of the purple
Civic ahead made no gesture
of malice; she had seen the motorcycle
cop halt dead-center in the intersection
while I tuned the radio, I’d figure it out
sooner or later, or so I am frequently told.

Outside the chain tax office
(While U Wait! Fast File! Act
Now!), a man dressed as a clown
stands his ground, waving to each
car. He wears a sign of inevitability
on a string around his neck.

Why a clown? A tax clown? Of course
it makes perfect sense, in a way I can’t explain,
like the difference between red and blue,
or reasons I no longer talk to ghosts,
or why I once did.

The tax clown has a red nose,
a Bozo wig, his face smeared with chalky
paint, the black skin of his neck finger-
printed with white. He wears a ruffled
Elizabethan collar which some magazines
have threatened will return to style.

I cannot say whether the occupants
of the hearse and accompanying limousines
take notice of the tax clown. (One passenger,
we can safely surmise, watches from some
distance, if not already occupied in a celestial
softball game. Or more likely, standing
in line at the gates, backlogged, stuck like me.

My big rush: prescriptions and groceries,
things to fill my earthly body. I will gladly
postpone my impatience at the elderly
shufflers who can barely hoist a gallon
of milk. I not only want to pass them, I
want them out of my way, a distinction.
The natural order and progression of things.)

The tax clown, I imagine, showed up
at the shelter or the unemployment
office or some other place I’ve never
been, and they said Here. Got some
work for ya.
Handed over the red
wig, which must itch and smell like the last
guy. So. Now he waves in all weather,
unpredictable, can’t shake a cough
and runny nose with this job. He smiles,
or wears a smile of paint.

Two dozen cars later-some funeral!
Who died?-tinted window rolls down.
Framed inside is a young boy in a tomato-red
sweater, his face a study in the changing
seasons. He lifts his hand, a stationary
greeting, almost a salute. The tax clown
waves on, but not in any particular direction.
At me, you, the kid in the sweater: Hello,
he seems to be repeating. Or maybe goodbye.


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