Despite the announcement in May that Feld Entertainment will be bringing back the Ringling Brother’s Barnum and Bailey-named show next autumn, we know that the planned model will be different from that which dominated public imagination throughout the 20th Century. Gaby Bedetti’s poem here reflects her experience attending what was then supposed to be the last ever performance of ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’.
Farewell to the Greatest Show on Earth
Hold your horses, throw your hat in the ring,
the show must go on, jumbo: circus language.
Older than Coca-Cola and Major League Baseball,
theatre of the impossible, place of wonder,
the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus ended
an American tradition on May 21 in New York state.
After 146 years, The Greatest Show on Earth
presented its final epic spectacle.
At the close of their act, the last gymnasts walked
toward each other in the middle of the net.
Suspended above the ground, the two men
embraced each other to mark the close of an era.
How will the performers remain in memory
now that the last pony has pranced out of the big top
and the last acrobat taken her bow? after Queen Tatiana’s
dream of supreme circus domination has ended?
With the clowns and the ringmaster, she was
ready to take her space ship home to earth
where Alexander presented 14 lions and tigers,
leapfrogging, cuddling, and jumping through hoops.
Masai, the last to leave the ring, gave the trainer a kiss.
Alexander’s father, mother, and brother had raised 500 big cats.
As a boy, he had asked his mother, could he be a lion tamer?
Yes, after he had worked taking care of the animals.
“Ready, babies?” Alexander called to Onyx and Amber,
Susie, Bella (who licked his arms), Max, King, and Cashmere,
encouraging the audience to support well-run circuses and parks
so future generations could enjoy these beautiful animals.
The uplifting clowns gave way to thrill skaters, contortionists,
daredevil bikers, and shooting star aerialists. A poodle
played Double Dutch, dogs barked to the beat, lamas kneeled,
a kangaroo jumped hurdles, and the alpacas pushed their limits.
A little dog in a basket dove–without hesitation–into a blanket.
So much trust. In came the clowns, considered divine spirits
in ancient Egypt, survivors. One walked a tightrope, where he
performed somersaults and a handstand atop a 47-foot sway pole.
With the journey ended, many are searching for places to live.
Eke, the clown, hopes to get a job as a bartender, juggling bottles.
Johnathan, of the Harlem Boys Choir, says opera may lure him back.
Alexander will move to Germany with the big cats and his brother.
For the finale, families and crew joined the performers on stage
to hug and sing a round of “Auld Lang Syne.” The ringmaster repeated,
“Keep the circus alive inside you” and “We’ll see you down the road.”