American Life in Poetry: What We Need

Each week Poet Laureate Ted Kooser offers a selected poem along with a few words that celebrate poetry’s impact on everyday life events. From time to time we like to share the reprinted columns here, and provide you a chance to add your comments. The latest pick in the American Life in Poetry series examines the sometimes overlooked story of what you don’t see.

American Life in Poetry: Column 055

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

A circus is an assemblage of illusions, and here Jo McDougall, a Kansas poet, shows us a couple of performers, drab and weary in their ordinary lives, away from the lights at the center of the ring.

What We Need

It is just as well we do not see,
in the shadows behind the hasty tent
of the Allen Brothers Greatest Show,
Lola the Lion Tamer and the Great Valdini
in Nikes and jeans
sharing a tired cigarette
before she girds her wrists with glistening amulets
and snaps the tigers into rage,
before he adjusts the glimmering cummerbund
and makes from air
the white and trembling doves, the pair.


From “Dirt,” Autumn House Press, Pittsburgh, 2001. Copyright (c) 2001 by Jo McDougall, whose most recent book is “Satisfied With Havoc,” Autumn House Press, 2004. Reprinted by permission of the author and Autumn House Press. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

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