in captivity

where high-wire dancers somersault blindfold without a safety net,
where trapeze artistes with exotic sounding russian names flip gravity,
where teams of ponies ridden bareback roman style by long legged women in spangled tight costumes whose smiles fade with the spotlights, where elephants dance, lions are tamed, where red nosed clowns ritually humiliate, where just for sixpence after the show
you can see the animals in their cages so just follow the crowds now
through red velvet curtains, down the sloping dark tunnel to a windowless cellar where half a dozen zebra, eyes wide teeth bared,
lips foam speckled tethered right by lions each in their own cages
that are too small to turn in, muzzles resting on de-clawed paws,
the odd canine exposed in a stroke victim’s lop-sided grin right by
shackled elephants their heads nodding like geriatrics, a sodden floor
watch where you’re steppin’! that nostril needling stench of ammonia

that no amount of aerosol can smother and breakfasts done, beds stripped, residents propped up in high-backed chairs, pills dished out,
telly switched on and fragments of memory loop tape: a boneyard
no-one’d cut through except for a dare (where’s my daddy?) waiting outside the odeon for some boy who never turned up (where’s my daddy?) the day she got married (did I dream that?) her black cat called smutty, a circus-ring, that man that I married (what was his name?)



Kevin McCann
Picture Nick Victor

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