‘The Bread & Puppet Circus’

Writing about the upcoming Bread & Roses Festival in Lawrence sent me to the vault for this poem written in the late 1970s, when I first encountered the political puppeteers and bakers in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Coincidentally for our blog community here, this poem was selected by Tom Sexton (before I knew who Tom Sexton was) for publication in the Alaska Quarterly Review (Fall 1984), which was a big-deal academic journal appearance for me at 30 years old. Tom was poetry editor of the journal for many years. It was and still is an important literary magazine to be in because AQR is distributed to booksellers and newsstands nationwide. There’s a chance that your work will be read.—PM


The Bread and Puppet Circus


This is the Hay Bowl Tournament.

Noon—flea circus and fiddles, then suppertime hush in white pine woods.

Mute priests and man-ponies act out Bach spirit music.

The silence of chanters padding on rusty duff, their small bells the only sound.

Eyes drink the lovely robed choir: saints and magic deer.

Back to noon—The Bicentennial Circus pokes fun.

Tentless pirate horsemen dance for squares.

Witches curse war machines. Peace plays in the barn. Satire on the farm.

Uncle Sam as businessman, Father George in midget gear.

Power is slain while the weird horns parade.

Through the day—full of free sourdough rye, celebrants watch angels.

Angels of ecology, angels of trees, angels of Temptation.

Dreamscapes of Swan Lakes. Chilean folksongs.

Children’s puppet plays. Biblical charades.

Women gypsies, loose and longhaired, leap over bales.

Toward evening—cannon and lanterns and stars and banners in the arena.

Umbrellas sprout like mushrooms.

A Domestic Resurrection Pageant renews the Light.

Dragon-sized sheet worm enters from the east.

All day players: A man with gold curls tucked up in a tan burnoose.

Children draped in yellow linen and red sashes.

Denim ramblers eating vegetable sandwiches.

Fiddlers in frock coats and cowboy hats.

Craftsmen downing cider. Grandmothers playing guitars.

Night cut by cold rain. Red tongues snake toward drumbeats.

Shrieking Aztec birds hawk in over the rise.

Wide rigid wings slice rain. Chains of fire, a stream of torches,

Amid wild pipe and hubcap and brass cymbal and hunk metal clanking signal music.

A shaman stilt-man dripping with gold spangles thumps the earth like a drum.


—Paul Marion (c) 1984