“I’m the clown you take out of the box and wind up when you need a good laugh. And then, when you’re done with me, I go back in my box.” —Richard Simmons
Don’t blame us for the outlandish rumors.
Witchcraft. Weight gain. Your housekeeper
keeping you hostage. Going Garbo simply
wasn’t glamorous enough when you vanished:
You—our 80’s oracle, the perky prince
of running short-shorts and sequined tank.
My sister and I forswore morning cartoons,
bare feet anchored to the family room carpet,
arms helicoptering to synthesizer pop.
The only girl in gymnastics who couldn’t
do a split—how she balled, unable to get over
those uneven bars. No more managable
than my misadventures in Karate, that swampy
wrestling room, windowless, full of boys
exaggerating my lack of boyishness.
Twins, tweens, we would rather watch you,
Richard, sitting like a chief before semi-circles
of middle-aged moms mourning slimmer selves,
waiting to be anointed by healthy recipes,
aerobics and sentimental rap sessions.
We traded our jar of Marshmallow Fluff
for tangerines and walnuts, our father
rolling his eyes when we suggested
he “spinach-salad, dressing on the side.”
Amid the species of strange celebrities—
Pee Wee Herman, Elvira, Boy George—
you were the clown with a campaign.
A prophet back from the land of Pudge,
burning calories, not bushes. An odd brand
of man, tenderly pushy, even convincing
my sister she was beautiful, making her
hungry for another chance at those bars.
Michael Montlack is editor of the Lambda Finalist essay anthology My Diva: 65 Gay Men on the Women Who Inspire Them (University of Wisconsin Press) and author of the poetry book Cool Limbo (NYQ Books). Recently his work has appeared in North American Review, The Offing, Hotel Amerika, Los Angeles Review, Poet Lore, and Cincinnati Review. His prose has appeared in Huffington Post and Advocate.com.