2017 Fall Contest Winner: 3rd Place, Theme–Current Events

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

a trio




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.


Judge’s comments

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.

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