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The clowns are staying home today. The crowds
have paid their chits, the popcorn gal has learned
her bit, to shake and salt, the tent pole’s
rigged, I’ve polished all my epaulets,
but something small and mean,
gargantuan, has taken down our show.

The beast, let’s call him Ovid, starts to show
his claws and sticky coronet in crowds
whose throats just itch a bit. It doesn’t mean
a thing, the bigwigs say. Have you not learned
that crying wolf is in your head? Let’s
all stay rational. Set up the poles,

we’ll make a go of it! The poles
of left and right who love to show
how much they know will never say, let’s
get along. Conflict brings the crowds.
It’s our best selling point! We’ve learned
to milk, to squeeze the teats of mean.

As a barker, though, I do not mean
to rattle this strange circus, bring the poles
down on our heads. I haven’t learned
yet—have you?—how to navigate a no-show
of a billion tents with rumbling crowds
who’ve nowhere left to go. Let’s

sit with this a while, please. She who lets
the river calmly pass respects the mean
whose curve now shapes the crowds.
Our global weight is snapping poles
in two, four, six, eight. A primal show
is playing to us all, the simple and the learned.

Oh, the things we will have learned
when Gargantua has shat his last! Let’s
not forget who rules the inner show:
the human spirit, heart, who mean—
and ultimately do—well. Set up the poles,
sweet clowns. We’re expecting great crowds!

Author’s Note: This is a sestina, a medieval Spanish poetic form that uses a spiraling repetition of six end words to bring the reader through a vortex, and hopefully a new state of mind by the end.

May we all rise above this soon, and thrive!

© Elaine Stirling, 2020
The image comes from a 2014 blog entitled “Porque ríes, payaso?” Why do you laugh, clown? I don’t know the artist or the blogger’s name.