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A circus is an assemblage of illusions, and here Jo McDougall, a Kansas poet, shows us a couple of performers, drab and weary in their ordinary lives, away from the lights at the center of the ring.


What We Need

It is just as well we do not see,

in the shadows behind the hasty tent

of the Allen Brothers Greatest Show,

Lola the Lion Tamer and the Great Valdini

in Nikes and jeans

sharing a tired cigarette

before she girds her wrists with glistening amulets

and snaps the tigers into rage,

before he adjusts the glimmering cummerbund

and makes from air

the white and trembling doves, the pair.


From Dirt, Autumn House Press, Pittsburgh, 2001. Copyright 2001 by Jo McDougall, whose most recent book is Satisfied With Havoc, Autumn House Press, 2004. Reprinted by permission of the author and Autumn House Press. This weekly column is supported by the Poetry Foundation, the Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

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