Then After

A Poem by Justin Boening

September 7, 2016  By Justin Boening

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.”

Justin Boening
Justin Boening
Justin Boening is the author of Not on the Last Day, but on the Very Last, a winner of the 2015 National Poetry Series, as well as Self-Portrait as Missing Person, which was awarded a Poetry Society of America National Chapbook Fellowship. He is a recipient of the "Discovery"/Boston Review Poetry Prize, a work-study scholarship from the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, a Stadler Fellowship from Bucknell University, and a Henry David Thoreau Fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center. His poetry and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in a variety of literary journals such as Denver Quarterly, Kenyon Review Online, Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly, Narrative, and TYPO, among others.

More Story
LitHub Daily: September 6, 2016 Mario Vargas Llosa: how global entertainment killed culture. | Literary Hub What do your reading habits reveal...