January 2008 / Volume Eight / Issue One
Alice Cone
The Years We Traveled With The Circus

We’re in the 3rd ring now w/ the lions of creation.
                                                   Perhaps one day our whips will make them cower or roar;
                                                   Or perhaps they’ll fall their mighty maws upon our heads.
                                                   Either way—  it’ll be a helluva show.
                                                   Either way— the crowd will get our blood.
                                                                                                               -David Bates

In the flickering light of barrel fires,  behind the tents at midnight,  we mingled with
midgets, slouched in the shadows of giants. The mixed-up scent of sawdust, dung and
spun sugar rolled off our skin and clung to our tongues like fog. We gulped moonshine,
swapped stories with the bearded,  the tattooed and the two-faced,  joked with clowns,
stole tricks from the sleight-of-hand man,  tumbled,  topsy-turvy,  with the acrobats,
juggled knives.

Three-legged dogs prowled the perimeter while tigers circled their cages then curled into
a comma of quiet where they could summon what was native, nocturnal.

Dawn would find us sprawled like Siamese twins inside tin-can trailers, sleeping through
the clinking of kitchen utensils,  the everyday squabble of local sparrows,  the raucous
barking of trained seals, the nit-picking bickering of our fellows, the monkeys— waking
only when the morning trumpet of an elephant would puncture the honey color of our
dreams.  Then we would lie still and listen, attentive, make ready for the roar of the lion.

This is what we had come for, the sound that rumbled through our bones and threatened
to explode into a fireworks display of guts and muscle, a dazzling, golden burst of sun,
the sun itself, all shine.  This is what we coveted, what we aimed to tame, and so we
arose to a day in which we would practice splitting the air with our whips, wielding
chairs and peering into the pools of the beast’s black pupils.

How we longed to bury our faces in the soft of his mane, to rub our hands across his
flanks and snuggle against his plush fur!

Sometimes, during the show, under the lights, in my tights, top hat and tails, crackling
with static electricity, terror-stricken, and intoxicated by this proximity to mystery, I’d
disregard the danger and pretend I owned the one I was enamored of.  Whenever I tried
to bully him into place— that square we’d drawn in the center of the ring— he’d snarl
and chomp and snarl, then rake his claw across my face, once, and again, and again, until
I conceded, retreated to my own corner.

Even from the distance of these years, stunned by gratitude, I cannot express what I had
come to apprehend, concerning envy and respect.  But I attest there are times I can see
myself clearly now, standing before him in the silence that is the radiance of our being: I
take his jaws into my palms, as if I am about to kiss his snout.