Abominations of the Body

Sideshow star Frances O'Connor

Abominations of the Body

The Dog-Faced Boy all curled up to sleep
dreams no more of Seal-Girl as his bride.
His crooked eyes, awakened, are not deep.

He gave her poppies, hoping she would keep
them, didn’t care that she had not replied.
The Dog-Faced Boy, all curled up to sleep,

would daily wake, attempt again to sweep
Seal-Girl off her flippers to his side;
his crooked eyes, awakened, are not deep.

But Seal-Girl, plump, each arm a fleshy heap,
adores the Rubber Man, and she derides
The Dog-Faced Boy. All curled up to sleep,

He -- simple face too dull to even weep --
now dreams Fat Lady’s breasts. In dreams he’s cried,
with crooked eyes; awakened, they’re not deep

enough to know of what he dreamt, asleep:
how Seal-Girl’s grave will look when she has died:
crooked like his eyes awakened, and not deep.
The Dog-Faced Boy’s all curled up to sleep.

- Sean Bentley
P.T. Barnum's "living curiosities" 

For more peculiarity, please visit this week's Sepia Saturday.


  1. Excellent poem, Sean! I like the technique as well as the story.

    Whenever I read about some armless person who can paint with their feet, I put a pencil between my toes to imagine how hard it must be. I know I'd waste a good martini trying to hold a glass that way!

  2. I feel sorry for the dog-face boy when I read that poem.

  3. A rather sad story - your poem. I really don't like the exploitation of anomalies - in the circus or otherwise. On the other hand, it does give unfortunate people a job & a place in a certain kind of society so perhaps it isn't all bad.

  4. Interesting photo. I guess a circus or sideshow was the only place some of these people could feel valued. The culture of the time certainly gave them no respect. Sad.

  5. "Living Curiosities" is cruel to us today. I suppose that in that time, the only way they could make a living was in a circus or sideshow.

  6. Yep, these were and possibly still are an attraction for a lot folks!

  7. There but for the grace of God go we.....

  8. A fine poem, Sean. I presume it was inspired by the theme image? I have seen a number of photos of these peculiar circus people. Their disabilities somehow add dignity to their human condition while at the same time diminishing the humanity of the voyeurs looking at them.

  9. Thanks, Wendy and Mike. This poem I wrote, more or less as a college exercise, when I was in my 20s, back in the Seventies! I can't remember what inspired it, possibly reading about The Elephant Man.For those unfamiliar with poetics, it's in an old French form, the villanelle. The first and third lines repeat (some variation is allowed these days) as the last lines in alternating tercets, and come together in the final envoi. (The most famous one is probably Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle.")

  10. I take my hat off to your Sean for this moving and technically clever poem. The Vilanelle is fiendishly difficult. I’ve written only a couple myself (found on my blog under the ‘poems’ tab and they are deceptively difficult.