The Original Adam Forepaugh Shows


By Robert Lavett Smith

Living statues on horseback,
Barlow and Amphlett, two champion
horsemen, in daring illustrations
of celebrated statues, while riding
upon bare-back horses,


proclaims the crisp, vividly colored
reproduction of an antique
circus poster, doubtless rendered
several sizes smaller than the original—

a watercolor illustration depicting
performers painted the dusty pallor
of marble, plumed helmets, swords
raised as though in the heat of battle,

the whole of their costume white,
and (we imagine) perfectly still
atop their thundering pedestals
of tautly-muscled horseflesh.

How quaint the scene seems
in its carefully-staged intricacy,
the violence—the movement itself—
seen from sufficient distance now
to have become almost mythic,

as remote from our twenty-first century
as it must have been from the classical
poses it so seamlessly emulated.

And this in a world
no doubt already primed
for a war whose horrors
Edwardian gentility
could scarcely have imagined.

With what innocent optimism
the final line of text declares
(unnecessarily, as it seems to us),

Positively the 31st annual tour
of this great show.



Raised in New Jersey, Robert Lavett Smith has lived since 1987 in San Francisco, where he works as a Special Education Paraprofessional. He has studied with Charles Simic and Galway Kinnell. He is the author of two full-length poetry collections, the most recent of which is Smoke In Cold Weather: A Gathering of Sonnets (Full Court Press, 2013).

Photo credit: Laurilyn Sato

Photo credit: Laurilyn Sato