On visiting a circus on Clapham Common with a small son.

The Clapham Elephants

The Clapham Elephants

We are two mice looking up at a cupboard of shoes
Smelling a dreaded smell of bigness.
The shoes move. Are grey, dwarfing thoughts.
You look pale too, they appal your small head too.

Round and round go the bony foreheads of the thoughts,
Backwards and forwards, tethered, only inches,
Roundways and sideways in the tent’s grey skull.
Soft red mouths
And kind bloodshot eyes inside a grey vertigo,
Caked, cracked, the colour of terrible mornings.

If only they would be still… they seem unable to be still.
Twenty five elephants swell, retreat, like the sea.
Turds like boxing gloves.
They only look sideways.
Never look at each other, seem resigned
Never to look at anything. Push and sway.

Soon to be ridden by pert girls,
The thoughts become public, make conversation kneeling.
The girls flick sequinned skirts
Again and again over scaly forehead, back,
Their calves in tights tucked behind tatters of ears.

The eyes of the grey thoughts, straddled, look inward.
Later, their dark tent, their huge smell.
Round and round go the grey helpless heads, a grey swell.

from Collected Poems (Carcanet, 2001), copyright © P J Kavanagh 2001, used by permission of the author and the publisher

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