Performing at the Fryeburg Fair

Oct 5, 2018

Today’s poem is “Performing at the Fryeburg Fair” by Gretchen Berg. Gretchen is a performance artist, educator and writer. She is the lead teaching artist for Portland’s Side x Side, works in rural Maine schools through the Local Stories Project, and teaches performance courses at Bates College. 

She writes, “I go to the Fryeburg Fair each October and got thinking about performing and living there years ago with Buckfield Leather ‘n Lather Traveling Variety Show with Benny and Denise Reehl. I'd walk around at night. Once, after I wandered through the horse barns and quiet rides, I heard music coming from the pulling ring where three strippers danced on a flat bed trailer in front of three security guards. The real hippie [and] the kid on the steer were daytime events. It’s a tamer place now, but still fascinating.”

Performing at the Fryeburg Fair
by Gretchen Berg

We did three shows a day.
Music. Jokes. Juggling. Old fashioned fun.
Nearby tents promised the WORLD’S LARGEST RAT,
the Duke of Windsor’s GOLD CADILLAC
and even more. I resisted for days, but finally
paid $3 to enter and see the REAL HIPPIE,
a lanky hair beaded guy meditating on
an Indian bedspread. Incense. Jefferson Airplane.
His dorm room diorama littered
with Just Say No to Drugs fliers.

This last fair of the season
starts hot (snow cones & lemonade)
ends cold (fried dough & gray coffee).
Snow was in the air between Thursday’s showsas I went for a quick warm up walkon the border between the RV’s and the side shows
where two bikini-clad dancers barely
swayed on a skinny stage in front of the GIRL SHOW tent.
The barker’s lackluster spiel and muffled boom boxdrove their languid slow motion belied by icy hard nipples.

No takers. Then that kid I’d seen around the barns
open-faced, big ears, short jeans, huge boots, fifteen?
rode up on a steer.
He sat stock-still, close upwaist level with the listless dancers.
“You’re blocking the view. Come inside. $5.”
The kid pulled a rein back to head through the door,
but the steer’s horns slammed the shaky frame.
The barker pulled the kid down off the steer,
took his money and tied the steer to a power pole.
The shivering dancers climbed down and they all headed inside.

I hope they had a space heater.
I hope the kid loved what he saw.
I hope all of them are doing something else this October.

One night, I talked with a ride operator as we drank coffeeand smoked cigarettes at the Lions Club trailer.
I asked him what it’s like to travel around and run rides.
He said, “You know what they all say?”
One last drag, then he flicked his cigarette away.
“They all say: here we go.” 

Poem copyright © Gretchen Berg.