EMPIRE CIRCUS (finale)

Cockatoos and parrots on cycles

circle the ring, then jugglers on unicycles zig zag,

then smooth hair, long ears, a bear

perched on a motorcycle keeps pace in a trance

Then as acrobats on cycles somersault

our eyes stray to the tiger stepping onto the long walkway

that leads to the center of the ring

In descent from above, dangling from a rope,

a yogi quicky runs through his asanas

as a long-legged girl shimmies up, sword between her teeth,

to cut him loose to free fall onto the tiger’s

arched back. Loosening up in the tiger’s cage,

the bowlegged midget, haughty, then

hesitant, seeks a way out. Twisted high in the air,

teeth braced with wire, chained to her double

spinning below, the lead acrobat

catches the eye of a man in the far bleachers,

pockmarks on hands and face,

tongue, teeth and gums, yellow in the light

his match casts. A shot rings out!

The twins corkscrew and spin and for a moment,

hold steady high above till they disappear

with a collective gasp. Out of the tiger cage

runs the crowd’s alter ego, their savior,

cart-wheeling and somersaulting

as he claps! claps! claps! His tiny hands

ringing all’s well in our own.

As the departing throng weaves across land

the holy river long ago abandoned, west

along its garbage strewn banks

smoke rises from a burning pyre, east,

beyond the steps to cross-city traffic,

scattershot fumes bleed into a clear blue sky

Our spirits lifted, the Indian circus,

a keen dose of chemotherapy

against the no longer familiar city

metastasizing all around

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