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Lay for the Day
5th July

P.T. (Phineas Taylor) Barnum was born on this day in 1810 in Bethel, Connecticut. His name would become synonymous with the circus and with showmanship at its most shameless and successful.


You in whose daily diminishing rounds
seem stamped all walks of life, townspeople, pagans,
rare cosmopolitans, think at the crossroads
that four ways go, and passing some remote one
feel, perhaps, your nape prickle with the latent
force of a choice you shall face, though maybe not
today and maybe not tomorrow, noting
that the dog, just a hair more superstitious
than yourself, will jump a ditch and cut across
to shun the shade of the noose, of traded souls.
Take it from me, there are no more routes than one.
In a long reign of rings, I have come each way
and gone each way, and ended here every time.
The road is long and single, as the coiled whip
running five times through my hand is still one strand.
Bear left and come into a fortune; go straight
and be brought to a sorry pass, and neither
bless nor damn the chance, since only another
self might choose another. Tonight you’re lucky
to have stayed alive, with loose change for the charge
to meet in a circle whose sawdust cancels
all paths. Here we defy the fire, gravity
and the tiger, while above us where the masts
are passed through the top to walk among the stars,
reason and time are suspended. By our arts
we show as arcs your straightest ways, your long-laid
plans as briefly made as spark-sprays where the blade
speaks to the grinder’s wheel, and your dullest round
flies blind and sure between the mother-of-pearl,
parted thighs of Rowena, the knife-thrower’s
sequinned assistant. Therefore the dust you drag
your feet through to unbiddable horizons,
and those bone-bag nags of bodies that you prod
to carry out your wills, where all the forked roads
reconverge, is gathered in our circus’s
perimeter, and are the plumed grey ponies
whose tails sweep the ground, and these exuberant
girls who ride them, from eternity to here.

John Gibbens
from The Entertainers


The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar

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