Burning Circus

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This poem is a little bit different than others we have posted, and the meaning behind it could be a little confusing. If you have any questions about it, please ask us! We will be happy to explain and elaborate on our intentional message. Thank you for reading!

A boy tears through the streets with an exciting new discovery,
He must convince his mother with a flamboyant summary.
Little Danny comes sprinting through his door,
He tracks mud through the carpet and freshly scrubbed floor.

He pants, “Mother, mother, will you take me to the circus?
It’s placed behind the school, between the two churches.
They came overnight, set up in no time,
Everyone is going, please mother, it’s only a dime”.

There are magnificent magicians and men with three legs!
There are pooches, and stooges, a monkey that begs!
His mother looks up from her intricate crocheting,
She smiles at his joy, remembers the old saying.

“You’re only a child once”, there’s no time like the present.
She grabs her coat before Danny becomes incessant,
“Come, come, Danny, we can’t afford to be late”.
They giggle through the town at a brisk, cheerful gait.

There’s a preacher on the corner of Gander St. and Main.
He’s spewing out messages of judgment and fire rain.
Danny laughs at the sight of a short priest perched on a crate,
“Hey Ma, he looks like a parrot. Maybe he’s going insane”.

The mother lowers her head to hide her smile,
But the preacher glares at them as they walk the last mile.
A homeless bum crouches underneath the bank’s awning,
He listens to Danny and his Ma, their joy is calming.

They talk about acrobats, clowns, roasted peanuts,
Their blissfulness distracts from them the world’s pain and secrets.
The family approaches the amber-hued tent,
Anticipation grows with every new sound and scent.

A line grows at the ticket box, where a teller collects admission.
Parents grumble about the cost, but he just nods, listens.
He says, “it’s well worth every cent, the show does not deceive”,
Though quietly behind the counter, he shoves money up his sleeve

Danny and his Ma find a spot on the stand’s top tier.
Though the air feels heavy, the view is wide and clear.
Suddenly, organ music starts to drift around the crowd,
The ringmaster runs onto the floor, his voice isn’t very loud.
He has a shaggy mustache, Danny can only read his thin lips,
His eyes seem dead, disillusioned, cannot come to grips.

Then the ringmaster jumps away, as the first act takes the floor.
A seal, dressed in a vest, waddles on to many awes and adores.
A trainer saunters in behind it, a wad of tobacco in his mouth,
The seal shies away from the man, earning a slap on the snout.

The animal does its routine and applause circles,
Next, come the glossy horses that jump over hurdles.
As Danny watches, he can smell something musty, smoldering,
He tries to tell his mother, but the pleas come through as slurring.

Clowns run out on the floor, laughing, cartwheeling, tumbling.
One of them catches Danny’s eye, he’s trudging, stumbling.
He has a painted on smile, trying so hard to portray cheer.
There are lines traced through his makeup, glistening tears.

Finally, Danny stands up, deciding he has to leave,
He can barely breathe through the smog, he needs some relief.
His legs suddenly feel like butter, blood rushes to his brain,
Dread stills his body as he realizes he’s going to faint.
The ground rushes to meet him, and he just barely hears yells,
“Fire! Fire! There’s a fire in the tent! Get to the churches to ring the bells!”.

Two weeks later, the citizens of the town walk home dressed in black,
They were all at the graveyard this morning to see the bronze plaque,
It has twenty names listed on it, to mark the mass grave.
Twenty people were killed when the circus tent went up in flames.
A dying cigar is what started it all, a result of a careless clown.
The tragedy is a permanent stain, a mar on the tiny town.
Now people are always looking for a different conversation topic,
They try to ignore that pain exists, try not to become psychotic.

Now people are talking about the new theater that is being built,
All of them know that the excitement is only to mask the guilt.
It wasn’t their fault that the tragedy laughed and struck,
A freak accident is all that happened, left to fate and luck.
It wasn’t their fault that they wanted fun, they won’t condemn.
And it wasn’t their fault that Danny’s mom won’t ever see him again.

6 Replies to “Burning Circus”

  1. Wow! Very well written and the story is vivid. A very sad story, but I don’t completely get the meaning. Why the tent burning down? Why a circus? What is meant by the preacher on the corner?

    1. Hey Erin! Thanks for commenting.
      The circus symbolizes society’s need for entertainment and their hunger for something to make them feel happy. It kind of alludes to how sometimes we enjoy seeing the unnatural and peculiar, to feel like we are somewhat normal and human. Kind of like how a lot of people like watching superhero movies because those superhumans symbolize traits in ourselves we wish we had. When the tent burned down, it was more about the people’s response than the actual event. No one wanted to talk about the tragedy, they just wanted to look for the next best thing. Often people bring up vague solutions to the problems in our world, instead of looking at the people involved. The preacher on the corner represented how religion is often put aside as an option. We ignore the warnings and use religion as a crutch when we feel guilty about what we do. Sometimes, entertainment and religion work together, like the visual of the circus being set up between two churches. In sizable portions, entertainment can actually aid getting a message across, but sometimes it can overshadow it. Thanks for these questions! Keep them coming if you have any!

  2. Hi Peter….Tamam here….I’m strange, also…

    On the surface, ‘Burning Circus”s message is clear…tragic ending as result of seeking fun time at the circus. Am sure there are undercurrent messages in your writing of this piece…well-done in my opinion. If you care to share your intentional message(s) found in ‘Burning Circus’, would love to learn of them.

    [I’m so strange that I actually look forward to reading posts on ‘Awkward Truth’…lot of gifted writers who humble my attempts at writing. Being strange is fun? ]

    1. Thank you for reading Evelyn! The inspiration for this came, when I was actually writing a different poem. One line that I had written really struck me, and I decided to elaborate more on those ideas. As I was writing it, I decided that I could portray the message more effectively through a story. That’s now what you see! If you have any more questions, I would love to answer them.

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