Lisa Higgs
The King's Circus
The tent is blue, the seats red and wobbly
with footsteps and peanut men all shifting
in aisles. Excuse me, pardon. My child needs
glow sticks before lights dim. Needs a program,
popcorn. Let’s paint our faces clown white. Let’s
find cherry suckers to paint our lips as red
as our clown noses. Let’s find our row and sit,
call the peanut man over. Brown sack hot,
the nuts salty. Let’s lick our fingers clean.
Let’s cheer and clap for spotlights and drumrolls,
our faces lost to center ring. Bring out
the clowns, dropping their hats like Bartholomew
Cubbins. Bring out the little yippy dogs,
their masters dressed as sequined Uncle Sams.

Their masters, dressed as sequined Uncle Sams,
bound around the circle of sand covered
in plastic, slick for sea lions who flop
and fold the inches, worming up ladders
to balance bright balls nose to flipper. To dance,
baby, dance, like Ginger and Fred. The poses
easy—dip, bend the torso, freeze. Applause,
their cue to sashay the steps in rounds, Maylo
the terrier hurdling brown backs, intent to win
the race in reverse and ride his victory lap
atop a slow gliding creature of salt
water and wave. How they all wave after
the last juggling act. How they bark and clap
on cue, wanting after a meal, a drink.

On cue, wanting after a meal, a drink;
wanting after the dance, a bite; wanting
after the rear, a roar of hooves ringing
round a carrousel line. Supposed to be
in time, but the old ones run slow to wheel,
the young too eager to yield, and so the whip,
the arm. The flashy twirl of skirt, her blood
red ornament cut against their lithe white flanks.
Her hair swept up, adorned. Their manes and tails
long and loose, as if wild routines transpire
behind the scenes. Are not muzzled. The least
willing to follow the crack taken off stage,
while the weary parade marches forward,
back to castanet, guitar, palma, grito.

Back from castanet, guitar, palma, grito,
dancers swap gypsy gaud for harem
romance: flamenco fingers, an ankle’s flash
transition enough for crowds being sold worlds
in costume change, tempo. Choreography
of cape, swirling against imagined bulls.
Of lifted skirt, the flirt of corset strings
binding women tight to dress. The old songs,
foreign comfort. Jazzed up African beats
high-kicked by blondes in heels will come before
trotting camels, zebras. The three-ton rhino,
who will be turned slowly for all to see.
This wildlife trained by man to small spaces.
Flapper fringe and fishnet still on hangers.

Flapper fringe and fishnet still on hangers
sway slightly, like elephant backs plodding
by, ring-ready, waiting the mount. One last
bauble to complete the act, beauty atop
beast. Such ornament—bare-skinned body’s garment
more gold than Eve’s leaves but no more modest.
The crown to each balancing act, a shark’s art
meant to distract from bent heads, trunk to tail,
sleepwalking the slow routine. In concert, rear
and trumpet roar. The best called to compass
points to complete headstands, while the rest raise
one foot in toast of nimble feats displayed
day by day as new to fresh eyes. The stage
hands both lead and follow, clearing all paths.

Hands both lead and follow, clearing air paths
of pins flung fist to fist, mistress setting
her tone in timed tricks of wrist. Apprentices
trained to toss, catch, release to her rhythm,
established by her method of keeping all
things in precise motion. Take two, then four,
multiplied by each hand—hers, theirs—and raise
partners ladder-top to spin rings over
head. No miscues of arc, no balls off beat,
just added heat—her clubs lit and flying
a fast circle while her young men compliment
the scene, firesticks twirling. House lights dimming,
then dark. Spectacle of flame thrown high, then doused
one by one. The center ring flares bright to bow.

One by one, the center ring flares bright in bows,
long draped fabric stretching from big top beams
lit like candle flame as tumblers flicker
about the floor in backflip and cartwheel.
Then, as embers pop out of burning logs,
their bodies springboard, twisting tight spirals
that ride the height crest to larger crest right
into backdrop, banks of sateen strength bolted
to hem in fancy flight through ground’s recall.
Some make stands on tightrope, make challenge walk
backward, obstacle somersault. Some perch platforms
ready to swing, let go, trust in being
caught, hand to hand, and brought back home safely.
Harm in falling, a fool’s rush of bright cheeks,
though nets do fail, and bounds do overreach.

As nets do fail and bounds do overreach,
bars too come loose, or doors swing open. A cage
is show, but don’t touch. Don’t tell: the white king
dawn cream or parchment. Or heated sugar drawn
fragile in too long strands of fair sweetness.
Power pedestaled atop a globe mirrored
to cast back the light staged for such purpose.
Lion on a turntable, groomed to sit still.
To shake his thick mane by prompt and bear no
teeth but roar by another’s will. To preen
for a pet, his trainer half the act, who raised
him to kingdom and said don’t move. Picture
it: taut, agile, able to kill. But cowed
by design, the star brightest before black falls.

By design, the star brightest before black falls,
music loudest during curtain call: clowns
spinning their last cheap plates to cheers for the horse
master, lion tamer, jugglers, acrobats,
other small acts of skill standing tableau.
Let’s whistle, stomp our feet. Let’s gather up
the junk to be brought home, leaving what’s trash
for someone else to clear. Bleary-eyed kids
have smudged their face paint. Cry outside over
one more ice cream, the trailer scent upwind.
Peanut men take their final drag behind
latrines, push brooms in a pile. Let’s wait in lines
of cars snaking parking, circus in rearview.
The aged blue tent hiding red wobbly seats.