Laughing at the circus

What were we taught
as kids, laughing at
a bawling clown, the whipped horses
a caged old lion and the outraged midget?

Was it comforting to feel
that just for once
someone else than us were bullied?

Today my circus memories
amalgamate with
leering schoolyard clusters into shame.

But, you say
“There also where the acrobats”,

I smile, finding comfort in the fact
that there were heroes then,
like trapeze magicians
and teachers breaking up the mob.

… and we grew up to learn
how much we’d turned into clowns.

Fighter of Circus Honore Daumier

This is written for Sarah on the circus prompt @ dVerse.. I will also link up to Tuesday platform @toads were Vivian hosts.

September 18, 2018

37 responses to “Laughing at the circus

  1. I like where you take this. The cruelty of the audience, linking with the cruelty of children, and then the rescue, and then the reminder that, yes, the clowns are already here.

  2. I like how you brought us to picture the teachers breaking up the mob. It’s the least we can do, a brief moment of our attention, when these noble acts ought to be the main attraction holding us transfixed, inspired.

  3. I take it the school days weren’t the “good old golden rule days” at all. This is a thought-provoking poem right down to the last line.

  4. I hated the circus. The caged animals made me cry and the clowns frightened me. After the third time, my parents gave up. My father caught some if the neighborhood kids pushing me around and laughing at me. He picked me up and brought me home. They understood then why so didn’t like the circus and still don’t. A serious and sobering read.

  5. Nice that the Cirque of today is all acrobats and high wire acts, with no animals. Their skill simply amazes me. Quite the segue from circus to schoolyard. You have referenced before the bullying you endured as a child; always sad to read of other’s misfortunes.

  6. I had the same feelings as you and Toni, but I also like the acrobats. I think now there are more aerial acts without the other circus stuff.
    I like how you meshed the early experiences with bullying and those who were heroes. Or as Mr. Rogers said, “look for the helpers.”
    I have to ponder your last two lines.

  7. Oh, I remember the circuses from my childhood when things had mellowed down. Only certain birds and bunnies were part of the pact. The clown always made me sad though — the “bumbling fool” act was almost too real and somehow I am reminded of my own view of him while reading your verse.

    I really liked it — it is interesting in its metaphor/view of the circus to highlight the bullying and the teasing that grip children through the generations. And the switch to finding comfort in the familiar acknowledgment of those heroes is quite refreshing.

  8. Did any of us enjoy school days…bullying never seems to go away, but yes there were ‘heroes’ or maybe superheroes who made it just a little easier.

  9. I think the whole point was that despite your own life being bad there was someone worse off than you and you could laugh at them. Circus’s and fairs were looked forward to to break the monotony of our lives. Now our monotony is staring at a computer screen!

  10. i have the same empathy looking back now, but when I was young the circus held much fascination and joy for me, I never saw beyond the lights and fancy costumes

  11. Really nice comparison of school-days insecurities and bullying and the temporary feelings of catharsis that can accompany seeing anyone other than oneself be picked on. Love that you brought in the teachers to break up the fight- if only there were always a rational adult in the room to set us right!

  12. Bullies and heroes – is the circus just a reflection of life, a reversal of fortune for the night. I have never been attracted to the loudness and cruelty of traditional circuses. Skills and magic are more appealing.

  13. GREAT last two lines! I must admit here….I have ALWAYS HATED the circus! Because of that, I never took my children to one. I always imagined the animals being hurt when they were being trained to do all those tricks. And I never watched the 1950s “cowboy and Indian” shows on tv either because I hated it when the cowboy and/or the Indians, pulled the reins on the horses necks back and up to jerk the horse’s head just before it fell to the ground in their fights. You’ve nailed my feelings here — different words but same feelings.

  14. Haunting lines:

    “Was it comforting to feel
    that just for once
    someone else than us were bullied?”

    I share your ambivalence with circuses, although it has taken growing older and witnessing their dark side to give up my childhood affection for them.

    A piercing and iconic write, Bjorn! 🙂

  15. and we grew up to learn
    how much we’d turned into clowns.

    Where one detests the whole circus concept but you put it brilliantly with a tinge of humor!

    Hank

  16. It’s strange how all the metaphors related to the circus are unpleasant ones. I don’t even like the acrobats. I am uneasy with people defying death for the entertainment of others.

  17. I like the way that you not only demonstrated your detest for some aspects of the circus, but you cleverly demonstrated that not all was “evil” and that goodness can be found working quietly near by making it the reader’s choice on which they chose to embrace.

  18. When we don’t see (and do what we can to change) the horror of the cages and the whips being used as entertainment, we certainly become clowns… ugly things laughing and crying at their own powerlessness. I despise zoos and circuses and all things of the sort. And I’ve often wondered how others can find delight in the suffering of so many. Then, I remember–we are human, and that implies all sorts of terrible things.

  19. It was easy to relate to the original poem, but now I’m wondering about people’s experience of clown acts. Yes, some of them were supposed to make bullying seem funny, but…all of them? I remember some school friends who “got into clowning” as what they saw as a positive ministry–making fun of embarrassments like tripping, telling jokes, juggling if able, etc. Does anyone else remember having seen that type of clowns?

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