Joanna Pearson

The Smallest Woman in the World

        Cleveland County Fair, Shelby, NC

We're sixteen. The air is cool and bright,
and we have driven to the Fair. The night
is pocked by speaker noise, the shouts and squeals
of funnel-cake-stuffed kids on Tilt-A-Whirls.
The tattooed carnie, drunken, with a leer,
blares Metallica and growls to us, "C'mere."
My friend and I can't laugh. We're too afraid
of our own awkwardness now to be made
into objects—except of ridicule;
a pair of girls who look like Olive Oyl.

Despite our vintage tees and jeans preferred
by pseudo-indie kids, we're both straight nerd,
or so we seem to that cute roaming pack
of cheerleaders. Dressed brightly, they’re compact
as multifunction pocket calculators
with straightened hair, lip-gloss, the matching purse.
We duck behind the Shriners' corndog stand
to hide, and watch the glowing clock face hand
of the Ferris wheel turn underneath the moon
that’s risen like a looming gold balloon.

At last we spot a sign we've never seen
on a peeling, corner trailer, "Tiny Queen
Yvonne! The Smallest Woman in the World!
Royal of her tribe!" A line is curled
from the ticket-taker standing at the door.
The people whisper, curious for more
than the trailer's painting of a beautiful
cartoonish tiny woman with those full
breasts and lips, long hair, and kewpie eyes
wide in playful, miniature surprise.

We line up too and wait to pay the guy,
walk in the trailer slowly, half-scared, shy.
Yvonne sits on some blankets, watching soaps.
She's old and wrinkled; fleshy. Her face slopes
downward, drooping folds like a Shar Pei.
Her joints are ringleted with fat the way
a baby's are. She smells like beer and Skoal
and underarm. She has a furred chin mole,
and yes, she is a dwarf, but not that small.
She glares at us. We're somber-eyed and tall,

and shame heats up our cool. With firm-set jaw,
we leave to find the long-haired boys we saw
by the 4-H sign. We pair off now to kiss
the boys, mock rides and passersby, dismiss
this whole stupid farce. Our smoky lips—
detached, ironic—part, and each tongue slips
inside a clumsy, candy-appled mouth.
The four of us are coupled, making out
dank scent of cow, faint dung, that hay-filled must.
We feel the shrinking power of new lust
distill us down and Thumbelina us.