(The Hartford Circus Fire, 7/6/1944)
by Kerry Trautman
Even the greatest showpieces on
earth are flammable. Pink tutus strapped around
elephant hides by muscled trainers.
Even their biceps and suspenders.
Even a proboscis
and feathered headdress,
and the five lions perched
up and over a steel arch.
Even the aerialists,
their sequined leotards, the whips
and chairs of tiger-tamers,
the high-wire unicycles, ballet slippers,
the ringmaster’s top hat
and silk tail-coat.
Even the clowns painting
themselves in the dressing tent, craning
grease-painted ears toward a chorus
of chaos, lifting the lower canvas
flap to see stories-high flames and black
Especially the 120-ton
big-top tent rain-proofed with gasoline
and paraffin which melts and
showers incinerating droplets to wooden
bleachers and collapsing tree-trunk
posts. Even the parents,
even as they scream themselves back into
smokeclouds of bursting balloons
and candy apples dragging
small, screaming, blackened
bodies to finish smoldering in
167 charred bodies stacked in mud, dressed
in what’s left of sooty Sunday Best.
Zebras and giraffes stomping in the menagerie
tent smelling what’s coming.