Published on Academy of American Poets (

Circus City

This is what life is really like.
This is what life is really like.
This is what life is really like every day.

—Gray Parrot, Vienna, 1943.

In the circus animals’ diary: “And all this was destroyed in ninety minutes.”
Makeshift forests flaming to high heavens, metal bent bars.
Siberian tigers, black panthers, jaguars, pumas,
bears, hyenas and wolves, and all the lion pit saved from burning
by the keepers’ own hands. By bullets. Only so much can be said.
Herbage will be scarce. Nature will gather like sleeping poppies
over the craters and lost species.
The African wart-hog will be cooked over an open fire in the garden.
One thinks of one’s restlessness, Faustian—
in the minutes-before-dawn dark
with the devil cry of black crows, the miry skull
of the half-eaten rabbit, then gold grimy hills
and light-making jewels and hand mirrors among the trees.
Why are you here? It dawns. All this will never be again.
The circus can’t be locked. 


Copyright © 2017 by Carol Frost. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 24, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“The Hamburg zoo and the Vienna circus were bombed in World War II. After one raid, the circus’s gray parrot was found in an empty rain barrel, frightened and repeating the phrase, ‘This is what life is really like.’ Reading about it, I thought, if the gray parrot’s inclination was political, mine would be, too. The poem became the center of a group of city poems I’ve been working on for several years.”
—Carol Frost


Carol Frost

In 1948, Carol Frost was born in Lowell, Massachusetts

Date Published: 2017-08-24

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