for CK Williams

The ringmaster, gaunt in his overalls,
seventeen feet tall with a cigarette,
leans on the big top. The lions are early,
the tamer, late. The ringmaster puts a foot
on the lion’s back, hand on the lioness’s neck.
The ringmaster lifts his fingers to his lips.
Look up, there are fireworks,
weeping willows, Catherine wheels, hang in the air
they’re constellations, cracked glow lights
on the football field. The circus animals, dizzy
from the fumes of a million bucks’
worth of fireworks, reel. The ringmaster lets go
the light and curls himself under. The lions bow.
And if he hasn’t died, he’s still alive.

ADRIENNE RAPHEL is the author of What Was It For (forthcoming 2017, Rescue Press), selected by Cathy Park Hong as winner of the Rescue Press Black Box Poetry Prize; and the chapbook But What Will We Do, selected by Robyn Schiff as winner of the Seattle Review Chapbook Contest. She is a regular contributor for the New Yorker online, the Paris Review Daily, the Poetry Foundation, the Atlantic online, Lana Turner Journal, Prelude, and Poetry Northwest, among other publications. Raphel earned an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and she is a PhD candidate in English at Harvard University, where she studies poetics.