Third Tier Carnival

Built up & torn down, from town-after-town…

Poem by Cynthia Gallaher
Photo by Agung Pandit Wiguna
lighted ferris wheel at night

When the Third-Tier Carnival Comes to the Harlem & Foster Plaza, Chicago

The hook-armed lion tamer urges 

a shaggy carnivore through flaming hoops


His digits, wrist and forearm swallowed

raw at the European circus, now only third-tier 

carnivals like this want him, built up & torn down

In town-after-town, a weekend gig for 

the local tilt-a-whirl carney of distorted face, 

his nose going one way, his lips another,

Who holds women captive as he 

locks each into another mad-colored clamshell car,

rapid firing phrases on how beautiful they are,

His ears perk as they scream,

louder as the ride picks up momentum, and

when their three minutes come to an end,

How he sets each free, smiling,

asking in a low voice,

“Have a good time, sweetie?”

In the arcade, I lift one plastic

duck after another out of 

a flume of water,

Searching in vain for a gold star on its underside,

the man in a large apron says, “I like you. 

I know you will win if you keep playing.”

He’s trying to con me, but take it 

as his vagabond philosophical view

on life, however un-self-referential it might seem.

And finally, high upon the Ferris wheel,

I imagine a vast ocean and sandy shores below, 

perhaps buried treasure I’d unearth

In the future, but only now gaze 

on the tar beach roof

of the supermarket, kitty-corner.

Rusty cars whiz beneath me,

women with cheap handbags

count out change for the bus,

And there, in my lofty crows-nest,

rocking to-and-fro

in diesel-scented air,

Who am I to judge third-tier,

even 40 feet above it all

in my own neighborhood, 

Third stop

on the carnival’s

summer circuit.

About the Author

green mountain with river in the middle

Cynthia Gallaher, a Chicago-based poet, is author of four poetry collections, including Epicurean Ecstasy: More Poems About Food, Drink, Herbs and Spices, and three chapbooks, including Drenched. Her award-winning nonfiction/memoir/creativity guide is Frugal Poets’ Guide to Life: How to Live a Poetic Life, Even If You Aren’t a Poet.

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