I went tonight to a country circus.
There had been a parade at noon,
Strewn out along the village street under the elms and maples:
A bugler, and gilt wagons, and a young Indian with eyes calm as the desert; and men in western costumes, with dark and weathered faces;
And a lioness looking from a corner of a cage out over the grass of a field toward tree-trunks;
And a clown riding trickily backward on a bicycle, all the small bicycles in the village trailing him;
And a band of musicians in buckskins and tan shirts, with red handkerchiefs round their necks, sedately but youthfully blowing discords--
All but the drummer with his drum, which cannot be discordant;
And at the beginning of the procession, and remembered also at the end,
A gray-haired man with a responsible shrewd face.
And in the evening, outside the smaller tent in the flare of a jetting movable light,
The gray-haired man, between two Indians, did an old-fashioned trick, interlinking solid rings,
And talked shrewdly and responsibly for a long time.
And under his breath he remarked afterwards, not so much criticism as pride, that he had seen more drunkenness that morning in the village than among his whole troupe on their whole trip,
Having already said aloud like a preacher that his wife traveled with him, that there was no immorality in the troupe and that two carpenters had been discharged that morning for profanity.
And in the rush for tickets there was bumping and wedging;
And there stood stalwart, guarding the ticket-booth and advising the line, a youth whose voice had the drawl of the south and whose eyes were gray and sentimental and whose mouth was sullen and tobacco-stained;
And the sentiment faded out of his eyes when he told three countrymen, who tried to force their way into the line by means of banter,
That he had money enough in his pocket to pay a fine;
And they went back and quietly took their places at the end, but not until he had sent their damn souls to hell.
And then in the smaller tent a silent young squaw, like an Egyptian child, held the head of a python while her husband, the Indian of the procession, standing behind her, moved and guided the silver coils and mottles of the python round her body and watched her with eyes that had seen the west.
And a pony counted numbers and told time with his paw.
And Punch had his unflagging game with Judy.
And a pale Swede, with a paunch, alarmed the lioness by rattling the door of her cage, then opened it and stood inside for a quick moment--
And always the gray-haired man shrewdly and responsibly announcing.
And the Indian and his squaw sang in sweet, strange voices a modern tune to their own words, and his gestures were the world-old gestures of beauty;
And he played the harmonica deftly on one side and then on the other, alternating, no pause, and cupped it with a strong dark hand.
Then suddenly, outside toward the larger tent, the youngsters blared discords;
And presently he stopped.
They said that he was a chief and he may well have been,
For not even appearing six or seven times each afternoon and six or seven times each evening and selling beads betweenwhiles to make New England holidays and his own spending-money, not even that had undone the dignity of his brow and straight nose, or the aloofness of his courtesy, or the silence behind his speech when I questioned him, like the stars over city roofs.
He was a Sioux, but had come from Arizona,
And when I questioned further, it was true that he had lived in the silent places
Beside the Grand Canyon.
And he let me see for a moment that he knew by what I said about the Canyon, and by what I could not say, that I, too, felt his silence and the river that pours through it unheard.
Then we all went into the larger tent, which was open to the night.
And there was first the small pomp of the procession, more fitting for some reason under the night sky than under the elms at noon.
And there was a swift riding and shrill calling.
And there was a woman on a glossy horse that drew gently backward in a circle like memory, or stepped forward in difficult slow time like anticipation--
And the woman's face was like petrified wood at dusk;
And there was a quadrille of horses carrying the young men with dark faces, some of which, when they came by the light, were lean and wan.
And there was incessantly the accompaniment by the young musicians; among whom was a woman who played the cornet when necessary and the rest of the time coughed.
And there was a young man with his shirt cut diagonally across his back and chest and deep under his arms, to show the muscles moving like little waves when he lifted and lowered himself and twined around the hanging rings, or balanced horizontal and, by a strap from his neck, held a workman off the ground.
And there was a thin Mexican boy whose nerves tingled with the nerves of the horses as he ran alongside them and leapt into the saddle and out again and leaned and curved with the lean and curve of the horses and ejaculated little phrases in a small harsh voice.
And there was an experienced thick-set man whose eye could calculate distance and motion and whose hand could throw a noose round a swift-moving horseman's neck or waist, or round the horse's head or haunches or legs, or round the bodies of four horses urged in a group by four riders with spurs.
And there was a bronco that made a noise with the nostrils neither whinny nor neigh and a man in a yellow shirt who stayed astride him, while five men on foot shouted and yelled and the people on the lower benches drew back from the sharp bucking.
And the Mexican boy, seizing his turn with avidity, swung a circle of rope round his curls and stepped through it and back again and let it widen and widen until he swayed within it even smaller than he had been and thinner and swifter.
And there were clowns, and many little boys in the audience equally open-mouthed for laughing or for watching.
And there were peanuts, and tickets for the concert, and cold lemonade, and the chill of night, and the smell of the lights, and dust from the rush of horses.
And there was again the young Indian, with beads over his arm, offering them not insistently nor anxiously, but with silence and certainty and an arm out now and then as if he were showing me the Grand Canyon of the Colorado ...
Whose vast and rusted deeps were unmoving but for the slow, blue, diagonal line of twilight, as clear as the blue, diagonal shirt across the flesh of the fellow in the hanging rings ...
And from the edge of the canyon a blue-jay darted and poised and chirped, as undaunted as the Mexican boy darting and uttering his small, hoarse phrases over the edge of death ...
Where the sky at night is tipped upside down and silence is brought whole to your feet,
The silence containing China and Syra and Egypt and all their architecture and swift motions and their pyramids and unremembered speech--
And a river that pours unheard.