After Walt Whitman
Why, who makes much of a circus?
As for me I know nothing else but the circus
Whether a trapeze behind a pillar, like hair behind an ear,
Or the smoke in clouds, rising, and the lights which stripe the smoke,
Or the showtime countdowns for gentlemen and ladies,
Or the bendy prince and sisters balancing on iridescent balls,
Or brother acrobats from Kazakhstan,
jewels on the pockets of their jeans, the brilliance of their hair like coal,
Or glittered lips and hairbands, and low-cut high-leg leotards,
Or pull-on noses, or noses made with putty,
Or poles and pulleys, and silks and ballets, and straps and pyrotechnics,
Or cages, feats of daring, and stomachs twisting in the audience
because they cannot look – or look away,
Or the fact there is no more searching in the dark;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me the circus,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.
When he was a child, the world inside his head
was sometimes better than the world outside.
He was quiet at school. He loved how the boys
made the girls smile and dip their eyes, coy with delight.
He wasn’t good at sport, was chosen last;
they called him butterfingers. He listened to a ball
sucked into a palm on landing, saw the fielders
hold their arms high and tilt – their gift of timing.
He observed his grandfather improvising, long fingers
splayed across the keys, the way he threw out a motif
then changed it, then hoiked it back – at the very moment
when the melody was on the brink of being cut loose.
When he watched the tiny Russian gymnast score a 10,
he understood that practice led to great precision.
In bed at night he edged his radio dial, imagined
who was speaking on the other side, heard
their guffaws in many dialects, plucked chortles
from the airwaves, gathered armfuls of the stuff.
He read the great sadness in his heart
until he knew it like a lullaby.
And, with not very many words, thrown away
yet knowing, he came to me in the darkness,
and made me laugh.