Houdini Explodes From the Depths, Laughing
At seventeen he was the wild man in a circus who
outroared and outran tigers, quitting when a heckler's piece of raw steak
hit him in the eye.
Later he thought it a snooze
to escape from a triple-bolted Siberian transport van--after all,
the guards weren't going to leap onto his shoulders,
crush his spine with their great claws and bite through his neck.
He challenged police to shackle him with best butcher steel.
They stripped him nude and searched him intimately for lockpicks,
and still he shucked the cuffs like jewelry. Afterward
he advertised himself as the only conjurer in the world
who performs stark naked! He had a powerful physique
and enjoyed showing it off.
He burst free from sealed milk cans and bear traps.
He was the Jonah man who
regurgitated himself from a whale's belly--
chewed through it like a rat, some said.
Once (just once) he was well and truly prisoned
in iron restraints and his wife, adorable Bess,
secretly tongued the key from the rose of her mouth
to his, in a deep and swooning kiss.
He was never again trapped, never bested.
When he escaped from the Chinese Water Torture Cell
he saved the audience too.
He exploded from the depths laughing,
and believers would scream their relief:
the wiry dance of his sly fingers,
the invincible strength of his ursine shoulders
gave them faith in their own blazing escapes.
Margaret Benbow writes poetry and fiction. Her poems have been published in The Ekphrastic Review, The Georgia Review, Triquarterly, and in many other magazines. Her fiction collection, Boy Into Panther and Other Stories, won the Many Voices Project award and was published in 2018 by New Rivers Press.
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