First Circus

By Nani Wachhaus

We met Bill the Elephant man

backstage, amid the straw-covered concrete floor

and the preshow shouting. Bill took us

out for burgers and told us about his babies,

two large, gray creatures that you couldn't fully see

up close. But from far away you couldn't see

the wrinkles in their skin, the maps of their lives that

trace all of the way back to Africa and Asia.

Bill was good to his pseudo-children,

elephants, they were well fed and

happy. He never spoke of the people that we met

later, the two skinny daughters that rode

the creatures and the sons that guided

them around the arena before the show. When he talked

at them, his eyes didn't sparkle like

they did when he looked at his babies.

After the show, Bill gave us simple knots made out of

elephant hair. He said it was for luck and he

tied them around our wrists while his children looked up from

where they were shoveling hay and we looked down at

his daughter's bare wrists. The elephants curled their

trunks around the daughter's shoulders and

hugged them, rocking back and forth, swaying

in a breeze of their own creation.

Later, when the lights had faded from our vision

and the imprint of mapped skin stayed in our

memories, we still saw the large eyes. Bill had

said that their eyes were full of compassion

and apologies, but he didn't know who

they were apologizing to. We knew,

just like we knew that the daughters and sons

didn't blame the creatures that were so far from home.