damn everything but the circus
step right up
Damn everything but the circus!
...damn everything that is grim, dull,
motionless, unrisking, inward turning,
damn everything that won't get into the
circle, that won't enjoy, that won't throw
its heart into the tension, surprise, fear
and delight of the circus, the round
world, the full existence... 1
May first blew in with a rainstorm, but by afternoon the sun burnt away the damp and I swear, I swear, all the trees burst open their leaves that day, a brilliant verdigris. And all I had was a backpack with a bottle of Old Crow, clean socks and underpants, a notebook, and one hundred bucks.
But I went. I left that town and I’m not goin’ back. Not even when the warm season ends. When October brings the frost, I’ll find somewhere to stay, a job washing dishes; and when the weather gets warm again in May, I’ll leave for places unknown.
I’ve been hopping trains and hitchin’ rides across the continent. I never thought the sunset would be so beautiful as it was over the Iowa cornfields in June, with cicadas humming and getting stuck in my hair. I never thought the constellations would be as clear as I saw ‘em while lying on the side of a blue mountain in West Virginia. I never thought I’d hear music so heart-rending as the concertina played by a blind man on Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
I’m tellin’ ya. This world keeps on spinnin’ like a goddamn carousel. You’ve just gotta find the elephant or the black stallion or the seahorse that’s right for you. Then you hop on, and you ride this world for all it’s worth.
I wrote that a very many years ago. In the way of much of my writing, it was kinda fiction, kinda not. And true to form, I’m not gonna tell ya what parts are metaphorical or embellished, and what parts are straightforward autobiography. Call it mythistory2. Catch me cuttin’ up jackpots.
It’s the sixth of May and like every year, I want to run— not away, no, but to. To the carnival, with the circus, to hobohemia. It’s spring, you hobos, sing.3
it’s spring again & like every year:
the train whistles bloom through the rust belt
backyards: so thick after a heavy rain: I could run
my hand through the air & pluck a bouquet of them:
by summer they’ll have grown wild & strange, lank bristled things: along the roadside: going
o one day I swear: I’ll float away on the breeze: dandelion puff,
the whistle & the steam:4
It’s May, and I’m sad. Oh, the sadness of May. And mad-eyed me5, singing the Hobo Girl Blues. I’ve always had this innate restlessness. Every time I hear a train, I wanna hop on it and see where it takes me. I often want to get in my car and drive until I run out of gas, and start a new life in whatever small town or big city I wind up in. Or I’ll be on some mundane errand, and see a field of wildflowers, and contemplate parking my car and running through the field to see what’s on the other side. It’s not about dissatisfaction with my life, not really, it’s about longing to see what else is out there. I don’t quite trust anyone who doesn’t have that longing.
It’s May and I wanna run away with the circus, with the carnival, but I can’t. For the second year in a row, parking lots are empty of their Tilt-a-Whirls. There are no test-your-strength games, no cotton candy, no shouting carnies trying to con the townies.
So this is for everyone who’s got the blues. This is for the circus people and the vagabonds. The freaks and geeks and clowns. It’s for the hobos, the anarchists, and the poets. It’s for the witches. It’s for everyone who is looking for a sign. It’s for everyone who has ever heard the sound of a train howling past their house in the night and wished for something more.
Dear one, this is for you.
I prefer to use a single word, “mythistory,” to describe a true history of something that may or may not have happened but always is. —Robert Moss, from The Secret History of Dreaming
Oh but the sadness of the May: what odorous night, what soft eyes stealing into mine, what plaints sighing in the lilac-hedge, what moon! And mad-eyed me. Soon, soon, I must marry the Queen of the May. —Jack Kerouac
Bottlecap Press has decided to take The Loneliest Show On Earth out of print. But I still have copies, and I’m still writing epistolary postcard poems. If you want to buy a copy and receive a circus postcard with a brand-new poem on it, you can PayPal me $15. (Within the U.S. only, as otherwise shipping is too expensive.) And if you already have the book but still want a circus postcard and a new poem, PayPal me $3-5, sliding scale. (Again, U.S. only.)