June 5, 2015

Three Poems By BB Riefner: Circus Song


B. B. Riefner wrote with chalk on blackboards; then, with a 1918 typewriter on tailgates and picnic tables in South America, Europe and Africa.  Today he and his wife live near Washington D.C. with a canine muse and a computer which must be fed daily.






Grand Daddy told my Father
one circus tale
each Friday night,
all through the empty winter
just before Daddy went to bed.

He said “Afterwards I
prayed in the cold dark
for the spring magic
parading down Main Street
with the early flowers.”

A flow of hopes
from a river of dreams
bringing all
of another’s childhood
to sweetly drown him.

He claimed the circus snuck into town
Not ever the dogs heard them.
By dawn the cook tent was up
Bread warming and filling
with early hopes and smoldering dreams.

That he had fallen in love with love
peeking under canvas walls
catching performers behind curtains
of coffee steam, noticing that
flyers and wirewalkers always touched

But the star warmed herself by
pressing her cheek into the young clown’s shoulder

Grand Daddy claimed
“All balloon men
carried a legend.
Each balloon
that got away
went right
to a kid
who would never see
a circus.
And that’s why
so many balloons
float away.”

He told Daddy that
the Midway like magic plants
grew right up through the
sawdust. And the side show tents
and rides popped and bloomed
like giant cornflowers and dandelions.
While tigers and lions and bears
were transformed  from
clumps of shrubs and evergreens.

That in the smaller circuses
everyone was a clown. The
barker, the blacksmith, the
cook and riggers … the
chief canvas man,
all melting like butter
on Daddy’s pancakes
into clown’s masks
three shows a day.

 INTERMISSION Granddaddy’s dead


 Daddy claimed
the tube connecting
the fantasy
the crowd demands
with their necessities of life
is Clown Alley.
And through its colorful funnel
flows the energy
from which all dreams come.

He laughed about the circus band
claiming it blew its music out
but with every breath
it took a gifted kid musician
and sucked him away
from every town they played.

He said “Every circus has a story
about a lion tamer
being knocked out cold
by a tiger.
It’s always the poor tiger, son.
And while the assistant
dragged the tamer out
a clown kept
fifteen cats at bay with just a chair
and a painted grin.”

And it was Daddy who claimed
“Freak Alley
calls only to those
whose Karma has been defined
and to those who seek
their hidden ordinations.
To the Boardwalk of Futures
customers go
to walk its length,
choose a costume,
select a booth, and from on high
watch the show
as the Freaks romp by.
Both he and I
one secure...
the other eager
sought out the Freaks.
One went expecting a preview,
the other to find his friends.”

Both Daddy and Grand Daddy were sure
since the circus and time began
the stands have overflowed
each generation pays gladly
for its special forgetfulness.
and what has been forgotten
still rages through the streets.
but inside the Big Tent the wire walker
never falls.

My Daddy always claimed
by making magic
an entertainer
blots out changes
the world goes through.

“Son, if the magic is great
It erects a dome
where life and death
aren’t able to penetrate.
And each priest
brings his own illusions
as reality changes
with every act.
In between
the clowns make the audience
grin at mirror
less intricate
more clear.”

Daddy always claimed
“Life becomes the game.
If there are no artifacts
there is no magic.
Magic leaves only mystery
through this communion
and clowns sanctify our amusement
which solidifies our faith.
The artist need the audience.
Their magic needs applause.”

Intermission ...Daddy’s Dead.


In my dreams I steal a caravan.
A horse drawn circus train
in gaudy array.
Gum dropped colored clowns
clinging like flocks.
Overpowering the green and yellow carts,
pulled by pairs of horses
who are Unicorns.
Their red plumes
Beckon like temptress’ fingers
Yet always beyond the children’s’ reach;
“The Children of All Ages.
All these promises of Oz
all this magic
marches triumphantly up
ramps into steel drums
of my experiences
until the lids clang shut
and its immortality is gone.

But not from the magician’s wand.

Grand Daddy! Some when the circus forgot!
Tradition must remain tradition fills the gaps
between old acts and new faces.
Tradition does not fade
like weathered posters.
But they can be swallowed
by silver tubes
on the minute-less mile
as it rolls into town
at 5A.M. unannounced.
and also...unapplauded.
From below, saints and sinners
cynics and fanatics vow
to pledge themselves anew;
then rush off into the cold,
through deserts and wildernesses
seeking messages from sands and stars.
While along with a thousand other lunatics
I chase God across stained glass
until God shakes a brush
causing pieces of yesterdays to fall
forming patterns greater than love
always just beyond everyone’s reach.

Through the telescope of time
which Grand Daddy and Daddy handed me,
the circus celebration blurs
vacant lots become dumps
instead of Midways.
Trucks and gas fumes
require no parade permits.

It’s not fun to watch
your fantasies and hopes
disappear through armory doors.
The circus cannot understand
doesn’t do it alone.
When the admission price ain’t high enough
crowds become mobs
with no respect or tolerance
for traditions and customs.
They always demand
only the slick and grand!

Oh Grand Daddy and Daddy
give me back the Midway!
One that’s a century long
leading only to a Big Top
of dreams.
Patched over dreams
which can still
transform vacant lots
into forever Wonderlands!


When Im dead
Put me in an old oil drum and
Ask all my enemies to come…
Everyone should have
A crowd at their last rites.

Hold mine up behind a shopping center.
Where only junkies gather,
Where the footing is slippery grease,
And only Jacobs sleep,
In darkened deserted telephone booths.

Lay out a feast
Of all the junk food I wouldnt eat
Let everyone beat on the drum.
Ask them all to be a pal,
And piss on it when its cherry hot.

Let them speak the truth about my life,
The one they collided with…
But remind all of them that their tomorrows
Will always be worse
Then me and my yesterdays.

Tell them that back then
Once the sky was stars at night,
And they could see watery reflections
And how the sun came up clear and hot
Just like my coffin has become.

Have them all sing a song.
Something not too long, and not too new,
But let everyone sing in tune.
And tell them when theyre through,
It didnt sound bad at all.

But most of all
Before the oil drum grows rusty cold again.
Remind them I promised God
No eye would be wet.


All my words are gone . . . stolen
Sons and a daughter took a few.
But all the others went to those I hardly knew.
Ragamuffins, student gangsters!
One entire generation of middle class fools.

And of course, a priest or two, joined
My twelve Apathetic Apostles.
Those who prospered strangling on the threads
Of what they thought they knew.
Wildly indicting me!

I gave pearls away for instant applause!
For belly laughs from fools and frogs
Ten thousand volumes of reflections
Thrown into that pool of cruelty that is youth
Gave all of it without right or wrong!

Now . . . More or less it’s gone.
Sunken into wall to wall carpets,
Drying in sanitary bedrooms,
Or buried in pre-formed concrete tombs
Along Potomac shores.

And if all of it began again
This time I’d play the clam.
Or run deep into the trees
To save my thoughts for
A wayward squirrel or dove

. . . No I wouldn’t.

Somehow I still care,
I still remember names and wonders,
Just because I cannot spit out
The stardust I saw in a few dozen eyes.

~BB Riefner

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