Five Years Old, First Circus
Loud, it was and smelled like
popcorn, cotton candy, candy, cigars, and
poop, but amazing all at the same time.
When you’re five, you like everything, almost.
Two men, the daredevil flying trapeze artists.
Two glittery women, dangling from ropes with their teeth.
Clowns, slipspilling silly – but scary:
Chalk faces; crayoned, exaggerated expressions.
I hid my face when they came near.
Boss in fancy suit and spotlight and mic.
Dogs jumping hoop after hoops like
they were hopping on and off a skillet.
Treats were trash, but I stashed an apple.
Kid next to me threw up on her mom, red, white, and blue.
Cherry soda, vanilla ice cream, and Lik-M-Aid.
After the show, Dad showed he had clout. Round back,
behind the tent, an amazing surprise:
A baby elephant, sporting a small seat.
Dad lifted me up and
I and only I was allowed to ride Burma,
the pride of the Lions Club Circus.
To feel her soft, upturned ears, lay my head down
upon her warm neck. I sang as she swayed beneath
my skinned-knee skinny legs.
That was the first time I ever connected
with someone who’d traveled so far,
halfway across the world, just for me.
© 2013 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
I’m sure other children got rides later, but I was so enthralled and focused that I didn’t notice. I thought Dad was king of the world that day.
OK, you all know I have a major phobia about clowns, with the notable exception being my friend Monica, whose character Imagin is simply pure and sweet. Maybe it’s because she is a woman – as much as I knew what “drag queens” were when I was quite small, men who paste it on for little kids scare the poop out of me. If anyone out there is a clown, let me know – you may well help me past my phobia!
Imaginary Garden with Real Toads’ “Kay in Alberta” presented us with a challenge that, thank the Lord, has NOTHING to do with St. Paddy’s Day… I also laid this on the shelf at the Poetry Pantry at Poets United. I’m probably more Irish than most of my neighbors, so I say, let the German-American and Polish-American and African-American and other Hyphenated-Americans drink green beer and barf in the street. Most of my Irish-American friends reserve that behavior for the other 364 dasy a year – and they are always prepared in the event of hangovers of nausea! Happy Kermit Day, Amy
March 17, 2013 at 6:04 pm
What a wonderful memory!
March 17, 2013 at 6:14 pm
That was quite a circus memory, Amy. I wasn’t at the circus until I was much older than five….
Kay, Alberta, Canada
March 17, 2013 at 6:15 pm
Fabulous, Amy. I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s terrified of clowns. And I understand about “Imagin” because my young niece and nephew had a neighbor who was a sweet kind of clown, and everyone loved her. Much to the shock of the neighborhood, she became ill with cancer and died a couple of years ago. Julia and Jonathan still talk about her.
But, Amy, I simply loved reading about the baby elephant. I adore baby elephants, and to read about Burma’s soft ears and warm neck just made me smile and cry at the same time. A wonderful post, and a delightful response to my prompt.
Josie Two Shoes
March 17, 2013 at 6:37 pm
Delightful, a little girl and a baby elephant sharing a moment in time, a magic moment to cherish forever. I loved this, it made me smile. I wish that life could still be that simple/sweet for children, at least for a moment now and then.
Sherry Blue Sky
March 17, 2013 at 7:14 pm
Oh I so love the story of the baby elephant and that you pay your head down on her and sang…..what a wonderful memory! When I was young, I liked the circus too. It was when I got older and started taking my kids, that I began to notice the sad eyes of the animals. I loved this post, Amy!
March 17, 2013 at 7:39 pm
ha – such a relatable piece –
well written and most authentic
March 17, 2013 at 7:40 pm
it is sweet. been a long time since I’ve been to the circus, tho
March 17, 2013 at 7:44 pm
I love this, Amy!
March 17, 2013 at 8:06 pm
This is a tremendous story, walked right into my heart! Great job!
March 17, 2013 at 8:20 pm
I have never been to a circus except in movies and this poem. Thank you for the journey so vividly shared.
March 17, 2013 at 8:46 pm
I am with you on the clown! Clowns and dolls terrify me—but on the flip side–I loved the song you sang as you rode the baby elephant—such a glorious gift!
March 17, 2013 at 9:26 pm
That is a memory to cherish! How wonderful to meet a young elephant. I like to think that Burma would remember you even today. Great tag line – clowns scare the crap out of me too.
March 17, 2013 at 10:04 pm
wow…what an amazing thing to ride the elephant there in the end…how amazing that would be as a child…and what a cute scene it would make as well…you leaning down there and singing…smiles…lovely
March 17, 2013 at 10:40 pm
What a wonderful circus memory.
Snakypoet (Rosemary Nissen-Wade)
March 18, 2013 at 12:23 am
What a sweet memory. Love the picture, too.
March 18, 2013 at 1:46 am
You took me to the circus and I enjoyed the experience
March 18, 2013 at 2:31 am
A sweet memory, expressed in delightful wordplay. I’m sorry the clowns frightened you.
March 18, 2013 at 3:15 am
Amy, my girls were always afraid of clowns too. Loved the poem and memory!
March 18, 2013 at 6:16 am
And the last stanza takes us away from the circus
to a serious note of getting close to those
from a different land — a different mind.
March 18, 2013 at 6:21 am
Oooops, I left off the first sentence in my intended comment:
Cool memories and proud ones of Dad to boot!
My daughter was just in a “Willy Wonka” play at school, so when I looke up “Lik-M-Aid” — I was surprised!
March 18, 2013 at 7:28 am
What a great experience….you captured the carnival-sphere so well I could smell the cotton candy♫♪
March 18, 2013 at 12:02 pm
How much fun was that? You make me reconsider the circus, which I actually find a bit discomforting.
March 18, 2013 at 4:15 pm
Elephants are amazing–so glad you got to share that connection–I’m with you on the clown phobia–crreepy! Still, they make some people happy and I wish them well (from far away). Kids are always puking in technicolor at the circus—as sad as that is, it made me laugh–(warped, I know) Great poem 🙂
March 18, 2013 at 9:53 pm
Gorgeous memory, Amy.
I especially love that connection with elephant, and this fantastic line:
“slipspilling silly – but scary”
March 18, 2013 at 11:13 pm
I loved this… you made me smile.
March 19, 2013 at 5:00 am
This is great, so rich in detail, and the ending is so wonderfully put. I felt like I was right there, seeing the circus through her eyes.
Thanks a bunch for buying our poetry book. It means a lot to me! And, what is this pretzel thingie whatchacallit you mentioned?
March 22, 2013 at 3:21 am
This reminds me of when my class went to the Circus World Museum in Baraboo. I didn’t get to ride the baby elephant like you did but it was a wonderful experience nonetheless. Another highly descriptive poem, indeed.
March 26, 2013 at 11:09 am
I like Circus Stories, and I loved yours. I felt you were telling me about it when you were 5 and it just happened. I really liked your last lines.
August 27, 2013 at 3:26 pm
I’ve never been to a circus, but this makes me see and feel like I’m there. This is what I love most about good poetry, connecting with someone and some place and something that feels close no matter how distant.
June 24, 2014 at 10:33 am
A wonderfully evocative poem reminding me of the time I was allowed at 8 to help dress the monkeys, not something g I’m comfortable with now but, oh, how I loved it then! 🙂