Between Carnies and Mariners: All Go Mad in the End (UNCUT)

By Livvia Faith

“You’ll nuke yourself up, boy.


Thinking you can blow off every other artiste, cast ‘em from the tightropes and trampolines and bite them with those hellhound fangs of yours – fangs we both know ain’t even your canines, but those shallow excuses you call words. Fight them over the stupidest. Darn. Things. All ‘till you think you’ve had enough. Not enough. Never enough. They trip and die. You trip and die. No one cares, for all. Falls. The Same. You give ‘em the anger, the rage, and your


fistfuls of soft-served spite.

What else do you even offer nowadays?”


So states Ringmaster amidst my last rendezvous

with a parasite yew on our current campgrounds,

a yew known only to my calloused hands

and jam-gorged throat. I choke on my words,

and a single thought flitz by: “jam” is not

my throat’s true padding. Not unless one considers

“J a m”

a beaumontague of panic

and bestrewn memories. 


If that’s what it is, I know not of the delectable dessert,

or of whatever word one would use in reference

to the jar-encased substance

sold fresh on our faire grounds.


Emerald épées prod through my ivory tights

and thrust at the gaps between my feet

and toes as he offers my shoulder a firm,

fatherly squeeze,

and guides me from the yew

whose blood I know too well.


Vermeil sap disgraces the pure blanc

of my gloves, which I hide

from his scrutiny

as he sets free a sigh

of solitary concern.


“You know, Juggler. Go on like this and, confound it, you’ll die to us all come next year. No audience to watch you, no one there to cheer. Your heart’s a circus, your mind’s a carnival, and you? You’re a tightrope juggler with a broken bowling pin shoved down your throat.


Is that the source of your anger?

The pin Lion-Tamer broke?”


Ringmaster knew my answer.

How could he not? Tamer choked me with that pin

in the padroom, us half-in and half-out

of costume. There, with little illume, he took 

his rheumy hands and unbloomed me

of my innocence. I was a flower.

Yet, by his touch, I withered 

into a mangled artistic mishap.

He strangled me, straddled me,


and no one heard the tamer

with his petal-maned prey.

Not even when he pulled the petals

and shoved whatever he found

down her throat

to silence her pleas.


How could I not endorse anger?

Towards Tamer and towards myself

for letting him dictate my growth?

How could I not endorse my sorrow
towards the circus I call home?


Ringmaster frowns at my silence.

By now, he knows my thoughts too well,

so, again, he speaks:

“Well, boy, I got news for you: Lion-Tamer’s gone. It’s me, you, and everyone else against his ways. Come on and get out there. Take out the pin-head Tamer left in your throat and resurrect it with a body all your own. Tent’s up. Show’s on,


so you best step out there and act like it.”


By then, we stand before the rope

and I question how it is that between my thoughts

we arrived there. An eager crowd with fancy dresses,

suits, and fine hats shuffles into their emeraude seats

as I position myself beneath the greens,

ivories, and d’or sheafs

that conceal our art within their folds.


My toes, bare for all but the white tights,

curl around my rope. 

Frays graze the linen and poke through

much like the grass beside my yew, and I

adjust myself

as the crowd scans our tent

for its artistes. 


He offers a grin, one very in

character of Ringmaster,

and pats my back.


“Stomp on the memories, boy. Listen as our carny barks for moon-fall. Keep your head afloat, for you’re more than this rat you’ve become. Got a future ahead of you, even with our meager gates—hah, “gates”. Decay-green, withered bronze. Can’t keep out a malnourished seagull, much less a rat. Things won’t sustain a thousand:


audience, performers, children.


They won’t sustain you.”


And I think what if erosion

never touched their metal? For, as sure as he 

sounds, I know the truth. Lion-Tamer,

the strong man with hands so willing to

probe consecrated grounds

that his horns should’ve earlier

forbade him from, showed me

that truth. He proved Ringmaster wrong,

as many a day,


he ‘sustained’ me,

whilst we readied ourselves for call.

He sustained with a silence

and hushed whispers

of sweet, splintered 



Those nothings splintered my psyche

the same way our docks splinter my feet,

the same way my rope’s frays splinter

my toes. Children scurry ‘round the harbor

with their fine shoes,

and those in my head

ferry the grief

of my carnival-mind. They demand I run

from the fragments.

The dressing room.

The costumes and lack thereof.

They demand I run.


Board that boat,

sail those waters, and they yell

Damnit, Juggler. Get out of here.


The circus’ll drive you mad.


The audience cheers and jeers as

our carnies make the opening act.

Ringmaster, as if on cue,

pulls me into a safe embrace.


“You’re not a runner, Juggler,” he says. “Don’t listen to them, for I know you, and I know you’re more than a cowardly lioness. We both know the waters’ll madden you too, for out there, you still make friends and foes, and singing shanties with sailors and privateers? Well, that ain’t much different from fooling around with your fire-eater friends and their pipes of cutthroat words.”


He lets go,

though he keeps his hands

atop my shoulders.


“You’ll walk the plank out there,

same way you walk the rope in here.”

And with that, the man turns

and tips a tophat signature

of his style.


“Show them the light and love of divinity,

of an artiste


who ascends beyond their decay-green anamnesis and learns to thrive

in a world where earthly beings control its way.”


For the first time tonight, I speak.

“And what of the tiny voices 

that keep me trapped

in Lion-Tamer’s hold?

What of the earthly epitome

that he, a man so distant

from sinless used to 

beguile my very soul?”


He pauses. And, amidst that pause, he laughs.
“Can’t give up to those tiny voices, your little sailor-sirens. Go on like this, Juggler, and every day’s a doomsday. Balance the plank or the rope, and even then, if you can’t balance your heart and those dependent on its beat, you’ll fall into the pit or the ocean,


where the Atom Bomb’s locked in.”