Aerialist

i.m. Vitaly Kharapavitski 
I’d talked us all back to Ireland, a week in Killorglin and a plan
to take shovel, bucket, armbands and an inflatable fin,
a picnic basket and a tartan rug to a different beach
each mid-morning. It was quiet and all worked out, so much
we might have dreamed it and never gone—except
that one day we parked on Inch Strand and ploughed it up
as the tide around us did what it does.
 
Cooped up inside at night was a different prospect
in a rental no one could pretend was Bali or Venice.
For entertainment, ice-cream vans and posters for a circus,
not exactly an infrastructure. The ‘RoyalRussianCircus’:
20 euro a head. I cursed the Celtic Tiger and paid, cash at the till,
wishing briefly I’d stayed, done an MBA and, some violence
to the language, lived it deal by deal.
 
Every artist looks after his own props. The balloon
‘exploded into flames’, the cage fell, then the heavy steel ball.
Becoming witnesses, one or two hundred people
thought it was part of the act, fire as magic, whoosh and clatter,
nothing irregular in the mid-air routine.
The reports say he was Belorussian, 26, a clown or
‘an aerialist in a clown costume’. And that he threw his wife clear.
 
We’d seen, in Rosbeigh, pre-show and a week earlier,
hanging around, nerveless and going nowhere an elephant,
a giraffe and, between them, a zebra. Canvas and steel
were shaped into a marquee. And from behind Coomasaharn
glider after glider hung in the sky, coasting away clear to the north.
A new bungalow advertised art, another a scuba school
and night-kayaking in the phosphorescent ocean
 
by which that night, stars and stripes on each enormous brow,
the elephants balanced on buckets like shuttlecocks,
while the giraffe nodded, stately and gawky, and a shabby lion
made his unheard-of roar, still a memory on each nearby farm.
A crowd of method actors, the circus animals, though
instead of a tiger the MC, for the sake of form,
squirted water at us from a flower between acts.
 
The ‘Sadovs’ had performed for one year and had one stunt:
in it he couldn’t find her, she fooled and hid,
the story so simple we gripped the wooden ringside,
grinding our heels into the matted grass and, would it ever end,
opened our mouths like parents as he kept
falling over and out of the hot-air balloon. Over
and over he went, poor man, who would throw his wife clear.
 
Weeks later, and back across the water, I saw online
the Dublin owner of the Royal Russians, or its spokesman,
speak of close-knit community, the harness, the hoist,
and the families of the deceased and bereaved flying over.
It seemed for a while, here, as if things might be as they were,
autumn closing in, a net that at the last moment would come apart
taking only the leaves from the trees and the name of the year.

from Of All Places (Gallery Press, 2011), John McAuliffe 2011, used by permission of the author and the publisher

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