The Circus on St Kilda

by Christopher James

We anchored in village bay,
the sea swelling like a gale inside the big top.
Our strong man was the first ashore,
swimming out alone, a rope between his teeth,
his head nibbled clean of hair, the circus mouse
balanced on his back. The waves lifted him,
dressed him in a coat of turquoise.
He rigged a high wire, an umbilical to the island.
Our funambulists were the next across
flanked by gannets, walking through thin air.
The lions were floated over on their own.
We raised our tent in a storm, a clown
at each corner, the elephants taking the strain,
and planted the poles like the island’s only trees.
That first night, we bedded down where we could,
watching the northern lights shimmer
like coloured ribbon; the air smelt of rotting fowl.
Our zebras shared grazing rights with the Soay rams.
Business was slow at first, pelicans picketing
the box office, but we held our nerve,
seals flopping up the beach, common gulls
filling the cheap seats, until finally the villagers
came, ghosts of themselves in flat caps and dungarees,
children with faces as old as centuries.
On the night we left, the ringmaster led us in prayer
while we listened to the applause of the wind
in the grass and the sea bothering the shore.