17 in Providence impudent
sang in my blood
roared in my cells big cats before feeding.
trapezed me high above the carny show
of Providence. Pup-tented too long I
wanted a big top . . . .
Brothers and Barnum & Bailey poled their canvas up
sang on Waterman Street
cats roared at the station.
Like a tuning fork whose pitch is struck
I vibrated 3 nights top row center
radiating love for cats’
drive in leaps through fire rings
motion poised upon the circle’s rim
rage stretched out from nose to tail
I homed into the circus frequency
with a penny-ante job–
rode the elephant
through towns whose bars were all I saw thighs chaffed with sores
the size of burger buns.
But it was all right up there. The old girl swayed like trains
we traveled on,
her muscles mimicking the swing of cars on rails all those nights
she rode shackled
from Tupelo to Muscle Shoals.
Once in Evanston when she dipped her trunk to drink
I slipped headfirst
down to bone that bridged her eyes and gazed
a tiredness soft as sawdust heaps.
After that I held on
tight through strings of shows. Electric
after hours under lights I hosed my heat
New Orleans I got so drunk
I made some clown become a
man for me
inside the big cats’ car.
air was musk of dust
and straw and sex. Asleep
the cats were shapes of dreams
no motion there no drive no rage
just ribs expanding
with each drowsing breath
little cages going
those jungle coats
then I knew
riding that mammy beast down nameless streets all
crammed with face-
less waving kids who roared with secret
but couldn’t see beneath my circus finery
that calliope which sang when I was 17 was
I was happy that year with the circus. Funny
though I kept flying home to
6 times in 9 10 months.
They let me go when my belly got so big
I couldn’t balance on the elephant.
By 18 I was home for good
mother to a circus child.