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Rikki Santer

Born Ventriloquist

Caesarean section, like red
velvet curtains, pulled open
for applause. Your wet lungs
drawn off like determined
marionettes & nurses swathed
you in tuxedo cummerbund.

They told your parents you had
to crawl before you could tap
dance; coo & gurgle before
consonants emerged, yet you
announced your entry tossing
cartoon voices across the labor room.

That garden smile of yours
& its ghost of mustache
got the doctors yukking
it up as your lips didn’t move
but your vocal cords threw
punchlines, ceiling to floor.

Your new breath was cheese corn,
your hands, fledgling beaks.
They say you were taught in utero
by vaudeville angels, so your
bassinet stayed miked, milked
for a marveling proscenium.


In 1908, Will B. Wood, illusionist
& ventriloquist, was lost at sea
with his daughter Bertha while
traveling across the Gulf of Mexico.

On stage he had his daughter vanish
at the spark of a pistol & his levitating
wife turn somersaults in the air.

A touring man he lugged his dummies
stuffed in suitcases from Argentina to
Columbia, Venezuela to the West Indies,
vaudeville language with wings.

Tugboat & schooner creaking
across the Gulf when brutal
winds gnawed at their hulls.
Woodie & Bertha last seen clinging
to wreckage, their trunks
of magic tricks & twenty grand
in bank notes & diamonds
never recovered although
crew members were.

Suspicion & luggage washed
up on shore with WooWoo,
Clown, MaryLou & Mike tucked
inside. Faces cracked & salty—
hair matted & singed—this family
survives as museum artifacts,
mute, blind, Biblically uncanny.

➥ Bio