It was an unusual saloon story, remarkably unblemished
By the normal run of done-me-wrong faux-Nashville angst,
Nor told with the eye-rolling and grand gesticulation
One employs to emphasize the veracity of the tale.
My companion was telling of a circus he’d seen
Some thirty-odd years ago in some overseas locale
(Johannesburg? Pretoria? He couldn’t remember for sure)
Which was not the happy-go-lucky place of childhood memory,
Calliopes merrily whistling, glittering women on horseback and trapeze.
The denizens of this particular big top were an odd and sorrowful lot:
Clowns with grease-paint scowls and smirks, some in blackface,
High-wire artists whose unsure footing left them in the net more often than not,
An orchestra playing out-of-date tunes off-key if not outright atonally
(The crowds equally incongruous, a mish-mash of the guilty and outright mad,
Their number remarkably sparse, and more than a few times
The unhappy company performed in front of no one at all.)
Among this collection of the misanthropic and misbegotten,
Crammed into an aged, rusted cage of sorts,
Was a lion, regal and imposing in spite of its surroundings.
They had, through both intent and neglect,
Did their utmost to break the noble creature via starvation and taunting
(The taunts echoed by the sad menagerie of hyenas and baboons,
Who, though they should have known better, babbled and hooted
In concert with their human captors-cum-masters)
And yet, curiously, inexplicably, the lion only grew prouder, more diginified.
At some point, the sad spectacle of a circus collapsed unto itself,
And the lion (so my companion said) was repatriated to his homeland.
I’d finished my drink, and rose to leave when the author of this tale
Caught my sleeve with only two or three fingers,
But with a grip that intimated that I must hear the denouement,
That there was no story at all without the epilogue.
Lion’s bit overrated as a creature, by and large, he told me,
But some transcend themselves, like very few of our kind do,
And there’s something like Heaven for some of them,
(Prolly better, some say) where they are kings among kings
And they roar in a manner that carry across the generations,
‘Cross epochs, beyond time its ownself.