Ready to work, side by side we stand
on the corner of Allende and Revolución.
Laden with water and smog
the morning sky forecast another slow day.
Not the best day for my brother to eat
fire. At fifteen, he’s still learning to seal his throat
with his tongue so the paraffin doesn’t sit there.
He still can’t purse his lips long enough to blow
strong raspberries and the pink inside his cheeks
rash with blisters like boiled lentils.
Hosting a sore throat, he puts down our magic
wooden crate behind Don Paco’s newspaper stand
lifting the lid up to unleash ideas for today’s show.
He digs through bowling pins, tambourines, wigs—
I paint on my exaggerated smile with leftover lipstick,
sponge my nose red and slip a patched-oversized denim
hat on my head. I am twelve, waiting for the light—red
means go and we walk on stage:
he juggles balls in the middle of the street,
I sway through the maze of cars urging drivers
to shell their spare change into my hat. Green means stop—
intermission—and we run to the sidewalk.
A drizzle begins to fall, speckles our hair gray.
Lured by the aroma of coffee and unwrapped tamales,
my eyes drift away from the cars and traffic lights.
Ten more performances before we can sit down
for breakfast. With the shrill of my brother’s whistle
I get on my mark, set, and wait, watching forlorn figures
crowding every corner, the woman and child
living under the cardboard tent sleep as if life were noiseless.
The blind man begs. I retouch
my smile and drop a coin into his
soiled hand. At least we have work.