The following poem is from Justin Boening’s Not on the Last Day, but on the Very Last, forthcoming from Milkweed Editions in September 2016.
Then after I finished, after the pegs were good
and in the ground, I stayed
under the empty circus tent, and I sat like a nail
at the edge of the center ring. I didn’t know
what to say. Hours passed. I sat there. Then
out of nowhere
a lioness entered the ring.
And with my hands on her waist, her claws
shining on my shoulders, we forgot the dance
we’d meant to dance,
but we danced,
kicked circles in the sod, imagined the children,
the families, all filling the vacant bleachers,
the ringmaster lifting a bullhorn
to his wretched mouth.
We would have taken a bow
in the spotlight had a spotlight
been shining on us,
but we were glad to be rid of ourselves,
even for a moment, glad to dance the dance
that made our irrelevance
more real, though our limbs
lacked grace, especially mine, or maybe it was the dance
itself that lacked grace.
But we were glad to be part
of the show, or part of the dance whose primitive
lunges and flailing we repeated, and though
the swaying couldn’t be our own, though
we would have never thought to move this way,
we kept dancing.
We heard the loose sound
of a church bell whose cargo jangled each night
through the streets, and after that, the far-off
celebration of wolves or dogs or freaks
wafting through the grass.
We’d meant to dance
forever. That’s what we’d meant to do.
But the lioness was getting tired,
or I was,
and the dance started to feel
less like a dance and more like a language.
And the lioness looked up at me, with a tear
falling from her massive amber eye, and said,
“This is it, you know.
We won’t be getting a second chance.”