Burning the Turnip King
by Natalie Bühler
After the tradition of burning an effigy at the end of carnival to mark the beginning of spring in Central Switzerland.
In afternoon dark, we gather
around the crackling head,
his papier-mâché crown glinting
in the flames. Teasing us,
he delays his broadcast
of spring’s arrival, so the jesters
put inflated pig bladders to rest,
hold hands and dance
tightening rings around the pyre.
Carved smiles on turnip masks
hide uncles, aunts, my brother
who’s old enough to join them.
Fire melts confetti-stained snow
into wet socks; my hands
in silent rosary prayer
with the pink plastic beads
on my princess dress, pulled over
ski jacket and thermals, catching
tiny yarn loops on sequin edges.
This is the last dress
my grandma will sew for me.
Already, her finger joints are swollen,
but I haven’t faded into a stranger
yet. This morning, she was on her float,
carnival queen of adopted home,
adopted myth, adopted accent.
Her consort is Lothar, who still knows
exactly how to call her
chérie. They stand there,
waiting for spring to explode
out of the king’s head.
Natalie Bühler is an emerging writer and arts administrator living on unceded Gadigal land in Sydney. She works at the Sydney-based organisation Red Room Poetry and incorporates her native Swiss German, which does not have a standardised written form, into her English writing.
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Photo used under Creative Commons from John Donges