At the Moscow Circus
the dancing bears catch rings with their paws.
Like a sluggish man this one sways, seems at a loss
as rings cascade through the air and form
a rippling sheath along his arm.
The illusion comes and goes and I don't deny
I almost see them as ‘real’—all of them, the bear
inside the man inside the bear.  Where
does it end?  Tigers melt through their hoops. Horses
like these have outrun wolves, pulled troikas
through the hardest cold and yes, the well-arched neck’s
a sign of excellent training, but that cossack
dangling alongside the galloping hooves, is
he master of the beast or just drunk with wildness
for some lost Ninotchka?
Surely the rider has his sorrows—but so did my Turkish
friend, on her way from Istanbul to New York ,
who, without a word of Russian (and tanked on vodka,
misery and love) found a driver to find the grave
where her exiled countryman Hikmet lay.
As if all it took to get her there was the name—
Hikmet—a name like a talisman, an arrow
through those dark confusing streets,
leading her at last to the one man in all of Moscow
who would take her there, where she could weep
for her poet and laugh and wail, pounding the ground
till well past midnight before the plane carried her on.
Oh comrades, think of internationalism at its best—one
human heart in time with another, one clown
masking his sorrow, one dazed terpsichorean
bear, or poet.  The spangles are nothing.
Artistry is dangerous, with or without a net.  Clutching
our popcorn, flashing light-swords into the dark,
we stare transfixed.  The tightrope walker
in his burlap hood could be death himself crossing that wire,
balancing his pole, each foot gripping steadily forward,
the human shape within the bag stretching blindly,
inching along, making it look so easy,
coming toward us, whether or not we know.



– first published in The MacGuffin, New Decades, New Writers Special Issue, 1990

   recipient of the issue’s Best Poem Honorarium.