Elegy for Cousin Albert – a Circus Man

So many things we didn’t know were problematic turn out to be.

Recently Ringling Bros. announced their day is over. The Big Apple Circus closed.
I grew up with the circus. My mother had a cousin who was as close to her as a brother. He traveled all over with circuses, knew them all, knew everyone. I, of course, didn’t have any idea that it was a big deal to “hang out” with Emmett Kelly, Lou Jacobs, The Wallendas, Clyde Beatty, Unus, who stood on one finger. They were people in the back lot readying to go on. Then one day we watched Ringling unload their tent for the very last time. That was the first loss. From then on for me, a circus without a tent was not quite a circus.

I understand why it’s gone. A few will try to stagger along. But . . .

Elegy for Cousin Albert—A Circus Man

If you knew you were going to be taken in,
you were part of the great act, and all
the richer for your willingness
to suspend belief for the higher world
of jungle cats, exhausted jugglers,
jaded clowns, those who left their losses
in the back lot and paraded center ring
for seven months to lead us on—
to be performers while we sat.
We knew the fat came off the drunk
and drug-infested fly-by night
hard work of broken men
who’d pitch the tent then wait
throughout the show until
beneath the same old stars
they’d watch the dusty bull
pull down the center pole, bellow
to the night, and lumber out from
underneath the canvas floating down,
a shroud to lie, quiet, over the empty
lot. Later, housed twenty to a truck,
the men would sleep.
on the road, Albert, now ashes
in his widow’s living room,
would think about the time when he
was six and rode the Ringling elephant.
God sears the heart with a single twinge.
Now the loss, the grief is just another line
of colored posters strung along the sideshow
urging us to pay to see Alice wrapped
in tattoos, Johnny Jungle eating bugs,
The Human Reptile, Alphonse tasting
fire, Erma swallowing swords, and
all of us who charm the snakes.

–Jack Ridl

First published in The Journal (Ohio State)


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4 thoughts on “Elegy for Cousin Albert – a Circus Man

  1. What a rich life you have had, Jack! I absolutely love your circus poems, so glad you convinced your editor they belonged smack dab in the middle of your book. I love this line from today’s poem: “God sears the heart with a single twinge.”

    • Hi Sue,
      Yeah, I had quite the childhood. It’s no wonder I have had such a difficult time over the years adjusting to, let alone recognizing reality. And this lion tamer is very happy to hear that you like the circus poems. Me, too!!! : ) As I think you know, the editor at first said that they didn’t belong. Then when I told her that that was the very point, she said, “OF COURSE!!!” Thanks again, for being such an affirming part of my life
      Jack XOXO

  2. Jack,

    I enjoy your poetry especially the one on the circus. Are you enjoying Key West? We would visit the place when our daughter Heidi worked there after graduating from Hope. Karen and I are in Englewood for the next two months. I look forward to your poems.

    Dave Zwart

    • David,
      How terrific of you to write! Thanks so very much. I love knowing that dear Heidi worked down in this zany town and that you and Karen got to visit her. I can imagine her savoring every alive time down here. Here’s hoping that you two are having good times in Englewood. And I’m so glad that you like the poems. It means a lot, a whole lot to me. Give Heidi a great big hi from me.
      Wishing you all that can be good always,

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