cleaning piece

A poem inspired by Yoko Ono’s “Cleaning Piece.”
At the carnival
I was most intrigued
by the stone-swallower.
A waifish bronze-skinned
lady with dark hair,
plaited, and slender
I was rapt,
watching the way
she carefully arranged
the stones to form
a sort of pyramid
at her bare feet.
It was a dry
hot day, the crowd
around her
was not large.
Her act
did not provide
the shock
or over-the-top
that some of the
others did.
The crowds
the fire-twirler,
and snake-charmer,
were much larger
and louder.

I preferred the quiet
solemn dignity with which

this woman
conducted her ritual.

She held up a
slate-gray stone,
the size of a small fist,
and slowly rotated it
like the magician telling us,
nothing up my sleeve,
and placed it in
her mouth.
She tilted her head
back and you could see
the stone
setting her throat
in relief
as she swallowed.

I thought of a snake
swallowing a rodent.

She repeated this
sixteen times,
sixteen stones swallowed,
and when she was done,
her pyramid of stones
disappeared, she
kneeled down
in the dirt
and kissed the ground
three times.
When she raised
her head
I saw that
her cheeks
were faintly clouded
with dust,
and light as it was,
I could tell
she was crying
because the wet
cut a clear trail
through the dust
on her cheeks.
She nodded, to us,
the audience, and left,
disappearing behind
the flap-doors of a
faded yellow tent
about fifty yards away.

The crowd around me
and I had a sense
that many of them
felt let down by
they had witnessed.
The fire-twirler,
the sword-swallower,
the snake-charmer,
maybe one of those
would do the trick
for them.

I went to the spot
where the stone-swallower
had been, and kneeling down
saw the vague imprint
of lips
where she had kissed
the dirt.
I thought about
kissing the lips
she had left behind,
but didn’t.
I stared at
the dirt
for a while,
then had my trance
when I
heard roaring
and applause
in the distance.
I looked up
and saw the fire-twirler
triumphantly holding
about a half-dozen
torches, his face both
animated and blurred
behind a screen
of heat and


About John Biscello

Originally from Brooklyn, NY, writer, poet, performer, and playwright, John Biscello, has lived in the high-desert grunge-wonderland of Taos, New Mexico since 2001. He is the author of four novels, Broken Land, a Brooklyn Tale, Raking the Dust, Nocturne Variations, and No Man’s Brooklyn; a collection of stories, Freeze Tag, two poetry collections, Arclight and Moonglow on Mercy Street; and a fable, The Jackdaw and the Doll, illustrated by Izumi Yokoyama. He also adapted classic fables, which were paired with the vintage illustrations of artist, Paul Bransom, for the collection: Once Upon a Time, Classic Fables Reimagined. His produced, full-length plays include: LOBSTERS ON ICE, ADAGIO FOR STRAYS, THE BEST MEDICINE, ZEITGEIST, U.S.A., and WEREWOLVES DON’T WALTZ.
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