CIRCUS AT THE BARBER’S SHOP
Memory, magnesium flare, you single
out – unearthly, static – the village
barber’s shop. I shan’t ask
why. Tobacconist, bookseller
(newspaper, magazines, pulp fiction)
was the local booky as well,
Because, the paddock beside
the barber’s shop was where any
circus, tentshow, travelling freaks, set down
their burdens briefly. We were
invited to share them a while.
Elsewhere, out of sight, benighted
the River sighed and kept on running.
Rushes that crawled all the way
up from the Heads whistled
at burnt-out trees. We came
when a drum thumped. Cornet, tambourine,
accordion, called us not to our kind.
Yet, could be proved. Common, I mean,
they were; our mothers said.
And looked it, under smoky flarings
stuck by canvas and cages. A mangy lion made
an awful great reeking water,
a bear that would dance stank fiercely.
The rickety seats got harder,
tie-rods and cymbals whanged.
Gumdigger or cowcocky’s hand who rode
the buckjumper might pick up five
quid, or stay three rounds with a sadist
for ten bob. We were tested.
Saturday mornings at the barber’s
I fondled Triumph,
Magnet, Champion and a nameless thing
with blue covers endlessly serialized
‘The Phantom of Maltravers Towers’.
It scared me silly week by week
I bought terror and bathos. This is
emotion recollected in paralysis.
I do not ask why. They nursed
a fire near their Big Top one night.
Every so often the bandsmen took their drum
to the fire, to warm it. Otherwise,
it wouldn’t be beaten right.
Selected Poems. AUP 1989, p. 109.