Romantic Circus Songs


Lisa Marie Brodsky

Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 121 in December, 2009.


If I tell you anything
I will tell you of the crushed
peanut shells, popcorn,
the gummy pull of taffy.
How the elephants mourn
for one another
with each turn around the ring.
How peacocks flounce,
draping fluorescent eyes of God
along the muddy floor.

I tell you this because I am
Femme de Vol, soaring from
one metal rod to another.
All your heads turn
up at me, eyes watery
from floating dust.

There is trouble,
désordre, my darlings.
with so many sticky-fingered children
staring with their eyes wide
as Christmas morning,
we begin to feel invincible,
almost magique.

But I’ve seen the magician
at the end of the day.
I know his tricks and trades.
If at night when he enters my trailer
and pulls scarves out of my corset:
azur, bleu, vermilion,
I close my eyes and pretend
we are enchanted,
listening to the songs of crickets.
But I am not his audience. He is
no man I have not had before.
Cape-less, his shoulders sag
like any man's.

There is a cloud over
the big top, mon petit.
The children don’t see it;
their eyes wander
through the glitter and smoke,
relying on mirrors to tell
them who they are.

I’ve looked into such mirrors;
they have spoken to me in
backward English:
Get out…l'évasion

Tonight, I hear the lions pace,
the chickens stir in their pens.
Women who have bent
into the number 3 for a pence
find night the easiest time
to release themselves
and so they lie,
lax, in their trailers
like spilt milk. 




Come, mon cher, you cannot afford the five francs for the big tent.

Roam the Midway – sideshows and menagerie
acts that whistle at you from the main road.

Now look: to your left is Le Géant Laid
who lifts Albertine and Carlotta
onto his two brawny biceps
as they show off their legs,
one long cigarette stick at a time.

Watch the patrons, these
stuffy women, how they ignore
his face, longing after the giant’s
robust arms and muscular legs.

How they shrink their
husbands – limp, gangly men
with overcoats and tweed hats –
out of their minds, how the men look
away, ashamed. I love such shame.

How détestable he is, the men say,
lusting after the tall and gallant ladies.
Carlotta and Albertine’s brown teeth peer out
of their lipstick-drenched lips.
The Ugly Giant, once he finds

his bearings, does not move.
And there they stand,
in wind and rain,
their legs barely shaking
in the spotlight of the moon.




And now you are my auditeur,
aren’t you? You are my captive
audience. You like what you see, eh?
These blue eyes of mine, the light
that can balance teacups?


There is another kind
of character, my darlings.
It is a man who paces
the Midway even after the show.
We watch as the man walks
in the rain and cries.

I tell you the tears he sheds
have been felt by us all
but we are so used to them now.
We have a show to do.

But this man, usually wrapped
in a heavy cloak, cries as he sees
a home for himself.
Perhaps his wife no longer
loves him. Perhaps he has a hump
and the world does not accept him.


Here he comes, each night, longing
to be one of us. Talking to the elephants,
chatting with Greta the Mermaid
sprawled in her tank. She tilts
her head and smiles, not
understanding the French he speaks.


But, mon enfant, you do not
want to be here. You do not want
to be one of us, to be alive
only when wearing the make-up,
thick as pancake batter, alive only
when the spotlight shines
on your head. These are
temporary halos.


And this is why I warn you,
this is what I would say
if you would listen
to the woman in red, fake diamonds,
I would say


go back. We don’t want you
crying here. There are enough tears
from the big top
as it is.