The Greatest Show on Earth
Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus, 1919–2017
Grandma said the circus came to town
by train, paraded through the streets to the fairgrounds
tigers in horse-drawn cages, clowns, a man on stilts,
a brass band, acrobats in spangled costumes;
the children tugged at their parents’ hands
to the fairground, where the Big Top was hoisted
by elephants. In our day, the circus came
with announcement posters, rectangular tickets
vivid orange, yellow, red, a snarling tiger’s head
encircled in blue, and in black the performance date.
On the big night, rows of cars guided by valets
waving red and white wands pointing “this way,”
already sawdust tickling the nose; we clattered up
the shuddering pine and metal risers.
Spotlight! Ringmaster all in black, a silken hat —
a crescendo of bareback riders in pink sequins,
eight white horses flowing
in an endless circle round the ring
Tigers hoops of fire!
cracking whips, snarling, how we gasped
at intermission caramel corn, begged our parents
for a little lizard tethered on a flannel board
and when I went alone for cotton candy, passing a lion
asleep in his cage, plump tawny paw poked through the bars
he twitched in a feline dream and I nearly
Screamed! ten-year-old heart pumping!
When the crowd filed out at the end
my little sister followed the wrong line
ended up behind a huge camel and
Now the circus has folded its tents, acrobats and
tiger tamers gone, animals scattered
painted wagons lined up in a circus museum
still smelling faintly of sawdust and dung.
We live in tumultuous times, and the poems entered in the Current Events category certainly reflect that. There were so many fine poems that judging was a delight.
“The Greatest Show on Earth” bids a sad adieu to the closing of Ringing Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus in language exhibiting both childlike joy and regret for things passed.
Linda Barnes is a Certified Applied Poetry Facilitator. She teaches online with the Therapeutic Writing Institute. Past president of the International Federation for Biblio-Poetry Therapy, she is a founding member of the Rogue Valley Chapter of the Oregon Poetry Association, where she coordinates an annual poetry contest.