"A Child at the Circus," by Anne Porter

Anne Porter A Child at the Circus

When you’re a traveler and the evening air turns golden
Every house you pass begins to look like home
Because it’s supper-time, it’s time to be at home.
But there’s another stormier light that’s golden-green
With the chemical green beauty of green beans cooked in soda
Or the false gold light on the false green trees of the theater.

When I see this kind of light I remember being a small child at the theater
When the curtain came up on a banquet of wonder and belief.
Scene One: A Wood.
The princess came on stage with her waist-length hair
And the regal flash of her sequins broke into the play
Like taxi-horns in the street when they clash with a concert.
I believed that the princess was a princess in real life,
Everything was real life.
I had no unbelief,
Everything was equally believable because nothing made sense,
The entire world was one big surprise,
Even a shock.
Whether it was the man in the play who had a donkey head
Or the raisin-spotted pudding at my grandmother’s, when it burst into flames
And I dove under the table,
Or that morning when there was white stuff all over the grass
And I asked if it was sugar and my big sisters laughed,
Whether it was the leaves of the columbine turning to silver under water
As my mother showed me,
Or the black and orange turtle who hissed at me in the strawberry-patch,
Or the sparrow singing beet greens, beet greens as if he could talk like us,
Or the wet bloody kittens coming out of my cat’s belly,
It was all brand-new and none of it made sense
And I didn’t expect it to make sense.

The circus was like the rest of the world, only more so.
It was always our grandfather who took us there.
Since he was a doctor, which is a grown-up of grown-ups,
And even a psychiatrist on top of that,
He had to do without a certain kind of wonder,
But he wanted to give it to us.

In the circus were all the colors of the rainbow,
There was glitter and whirling and jumping and coarse music,
There were shuffling, swaying elephants, rippling their skins,
Shifting from foot to foot,
Always in motion like the sea.
There was a dancing pony with chalk-white wings
That I believed were real
Until my grandfather said they were artificial.
That was a grown-up’s word, but I knew he was saying
There’s something not quite right about wings on a pony.
It was a bit disappointing.

The entertainment I liked the best of all
Was to sit out on the back steps with my brother
Enjoying the company of our grandfather’s coachman
Michael Grady
And his rich rolling stories.
He sat between us,
And while he was telling the stories I peered at his greenish eyes
In which there were little brown threads as wonderful as the stories.

+ Anne Porter