One Poem by Alun Robert

Written in response to this month’s Special Challenge.

End of the Line Parade

Was late January a Thursday, how I remember,
been raining for days     gale howling with only
the yellow and blue big top standing on site as

the mighty Wurlitzer had sung its final march with
floodlights dismantled, switched off for good
and bleachers removed as crowds far gone,
ticket booth prone     red cash box empty for

big cats, camels, elephants long departed
leaving horses, forlorn donkeys distraught they say,
paint peeled from poles and load bearing beams,
weather-bleached canvas mended now re-torn,
trapezes à la terre splattered with mud in puddles
that the seals would have relished     even adored,
clowns’ tunics and shoes in boxes marked trash with
make-up down in jars as remnants of laughs while

the ring master’s coat thrice darned at the cuffs
consigned to moth balls for preservation at best
off to a museum in Baraboo or Sarasota Springs
or Hulme Hall flea market     Sunday, I guess

it was the journey end, not just the end of a season
our parade to the station was a straight walk after
meanderings as niche for decades or more fighting
against trends while treasuring theatrical tradition
imbued in circus families     embellished by artistes
carrying dreams, memories of romantic frolics along
avenues of fulfilment, dark passages, dirty tricks
never quite winning, never quite achieving though

I sighed, I cried it’s over     the end of an epoch when
circus was muscle, sinew, was blood through the stone as
the yellow and blue big top remains only in my mind.


Alun Robert is a prolific creator of lyrical verse. Of late, he has achieved success in poetry competitions and featured in international literary magazines, anthologies and on the web. He particularly enjoys ekphrastic challenges. In September 2019, he was Featured Writer of the Federation of Writers Scotland.

One Poem by ky li

To Keep My Five-Year-Old Eyes

                                           from peeping through
the banisters for St. Nick on Christmas Eve,
mother told me what her mother had told her:
Santa spits tobacco juice in the eyes, to blind
little children trying to sneak a peek of him!

Mortified, I’d lie sobbing in bed, eyes wakeful,
as the clock approached midnight each Yuletide
for the next five years, until my mouthy niece
disclosed the mysterious Kringle’s true identity.
Subsequently, I deduced the fraudulent existence
of the Easter bunny, the tooth fairy & God.

Years later, when confessing my childhood dread
of the holiday, due to her Appalachian aphorism,
she clarified: The blindness was only temporary!


for Georgia O’Keeffe

Rain’s reality slaps the face
of jimsonweed
from its pinwheel reverie
into the realization,
it must always bow
in servitude to the rose,
whose beauty,
precariously perched
above thorns,
would always warrant
men’s lust & women’s envy
before its own, save maybe
a vagabond or occasional artist
wandering the desert.


ky li is a folk poet in Louisville, Kentucky whose work has appeared in Brittle Star, The Oddville Press, The Ibis Head Review, West Trade Review, Word Fountain and the books Six Voices and Six Voices Two, published by Blackthorn Press.

One Poem by Stephen Kingsnorth

Written in response to this month’s Special Challenge.


Fine guys and gals can hold the ring,
that circus tent not made for string
you think, but power lies, thinnest length,
when bound with others, tensile strength.

Why should the white surrender flags
suggest that all not well – yurt sags,
when minty toothpaste, capped big-tops,
prevents a wriggle, weather strops.

Blotchy sky suggests water taint,
but what if coloured oils are paint;
challenge, when folks together, face,
pull as one, sky space limitless?

I see the clown, the fool at work,
the more abuse, more power uncork;
just as the jester dared the king,
then thinnest thread removes the sting.

You say, nonsensical, this drone,
just look globe’s victims, lying prone.
I ask, if love is paramount,
whose winning on this battleground?

Is it the proud, the arrogant,
who win the argument, the hunt,
or is it artists, poet’s words
control the fort, defeat the swords?

The blade is weaker than the pen,
empires may rise, then fall again,
but who, whose challenges hold sway,
bully posing, writer’s way?

If this evangelism thought,
apologies: your choice is sought.
I simply pose that, mindset cleared,
you dare question, what have I feared?


Stephen Kingsnorth, retired to Wales from ministry in the Methodist Church, has had pieces accepted by a dozen on-line poetry sites including Nine Muses Poetry; Eunoia Review; Amethyst Review; Softblow Literary Journal; From the Edge; Sparks of Calliope; Allegro; and Gold Dust, The Seventh Quarry, The Dawntreader & Foxtrot Uniform Poetry Magazines.

Two Poems by Tim Mayo

A Brief Explanation of the Psychotic Universe

This is how it works: the invisible
cause and effect of the universe,
that Big Bang no one has ever heard,
emits its waves of singular commands.

Then the voices ripple through the cosmos,
one by one, whispering their secret orders,
which only I can hear, for I am Cassandra.
I see them slipping into my ear, shifting
with each surreptitious twist of air, skating
the thin line between wind and waft until,
with a flutter, a momentary lull settles
into my head telling me it’s time.

Friends, penitents, suffering pilgrims,
all blessed in your hospital blues,
listen, for I have heard the universe,
the first echoes of its birth, nearing
louder and louder with each new gust,
and I alone have escaped to tell you.

Bagatelle to Stay Awake on Night Shifts

The scars on my wrists are not what you think.
On one, a dog bit me as I addressed her mistress.
(A quick zip to the hospital sewed me up like new.)
On the other, a shrill girl, mad at her mother, shrieked
and chewed me like the nipple she’d never known.
I want to say I’m a better person for having been
consumed by fear, anger, and the animal love
of those we want to love and be loved by–but . . .

let me just surreptitiously whisper what I’ve become,
lisp out a little psst between these gaps in time and teeth,
when we lick our wounds with words and dreams.
I am the tooth fairy, come to collect the ivory loss
of the unloved, the impressions they make. Ooh,
what shall I leave under their pillows tonight?


Tim Mayo’s poems have received six Pushcart Prize nominations as well twice being chosen a finalist for the Paumanok Prize. His first full length collection, The Kingdom of Possibilities, (Mayapple Press, 2009) was a finalist for the 2009 May Swenson Award. His second volume of poems, Thesaurus of Separation (Phoenicia Publishing 2016) was a finalist for the 2017 Montaigne Medal and a finalist for the 2017 Eric Hoffer Book Award. His next collection, Notes to the Mental Hospital Timekeeper, will be published by Kelsay Books in early 2020. He lives in Southern Vermont, where he works in a Mental Hospital.

One Poem by James Bell

Written in response to this month’s Special Challenge.

only the sky is higher still

minarets are my first thought and ask
why they might be here in such numbers –
a personal imagining of Xanadu where

clowns live and perform beneath these tops
have to be homes for jugglers and tumblers also
who live to glitter in their brightest colours

where others call by to say they’ve been –
solemnly watch the trapeze and high wire acts
while only the sky is higher still

the usual bargain after the animals
have gone to do what’s natural for them
as symbols too of a greater desertion

every trick is greeted with applause and laughter
while all remains quiet just beneath the sky


James Bell – returned to writing poetry over twenty years ago and has not yet left. He is a regular contributor to Nine Muses’ Special Challenges.

Two Poems by Gareth Culshaw

The Youth

My coppiced mind below teenage rind, and wrong is right.
Woodland hikes resting mountain bikes, then summer bicker.
We lit paper fires, lied to liars, stayed out late.

Kicked a ball, wished to be tall, change the tongues tone.
We ran around lost in our sound from North to South.
Changed our names in footie games what did we gain?

Climbed small trees acquired house keys, felt like a king.
Swear words came with pubic fame and a stubbled face.
Felt our skin hide the sin as we heard birds sing.


Cynghanedd Sain/Sound

Gone Fishing

Sat on rocks with soaking socks, and blistering sores.
Fanta stained teeth, nicked a leaf, watched the line.

Snagged a bush, we had a rush on seeing the roach.
The river gurgled, childhood burgled, talked of burgers.

I told a joke, drank some coke, the shadows were cold.
We sat on coats, hid like stoats, the current never stopped.

We began to tut, before a strut on the home straight.
Spat on the floor, then opened the door for another dawn.


Cynghanedd Sain/Sound

Gareth lives in Wales. He had his first collection out in 2018 by Futurecycle called The Miner. In 2020, his second collection, called Shadows of Tryfan is released. He is currently doing an MFA at Manchester Met. His poetry has also been nominated for Best of the Net.

One Poem by Edward Alport

Written in response to this month’s Special Challenge.

The Roar of the Greasepaint

Another town. Another muddy pitch.
Another flood plain even the flood rejected
Booked long in advance, pretending we’re unexpected
Bone poor, pretending that we’re rich.

There is a secret line that runs around the Top
A foot from the ground, invisible to the crowds.
Above it, gleaming canvas mountains reach the clouds,
Sequins glitter, lights gleam, and clown feet flop.

Beneath the line is all the showman sees:
The greasepaint stains, no matter how hard one scrubs
The mud; the shit; the discarded ticket stubs;
And tarnished sequins sticking to my knees.

Join the circus! Live the life that’s free!
Dear God! I wish I’d run away to sea.


Edward is a lecturer and writer, mostly on business and politics. He often posts twittaku (double haiku in 140 characters) on Twitter, plus the occasional political limerick.

One Poem by Marc Darnell


Stalled in a gray job,
wearing gray,
old enough for hair
with a bit of gray.
Some call you Bob
because 6 months ago there
was a maintenance guy named that
and you sort of look the same,
same glasses anyway,
both about 5 foot 8,
but you don’t correct them.

Gray faces in the halls,
all looking down
like this is how dim
life got hiding behind walls
not being sociable,
duster/scrubber/waxer clowns
where filth is so palpable,
and the restroom stalls
are a biohazard horror.

You should have gotten out more,
made clout connections–
it’s who you know, loser
your dad said once,
quiet guys end up at the bottom.
You are your actions–
flatter ’em,
make a stance,

but he was one to talk–
a mailman who walked
till leg cramps at night in bed,
and now he’s dead,
but you’ll be fine–
you’re here with other gray guys
with personalities you can’t define.
You see their eyes,
wandering and surrendered
like yours.

It’s not bad at the bottom–
make miserable friends and love them.
You all might be substandard,
but only fools are keeping score.


Marc Darnell is a facilities tech (fancy name for janitor) and online tutor in Omaha Nebraska, and has also been a phlebotomist, hotel supervisor, editorial assistant, farmhand, devout recluse, and incurable brooder. He has published poems in The Lyric, Rue Scribe, Verse, The Road Not Taken, Blue Unicorn, Ragazine, and The Literary Nest, among others.

One Poem by Michael Caines

Written in response to this month’s Special Challenge.

The twins

Today, our nondescript routine inspires
warmth-less applause that smatters out beneath
exuberant uprights. Gone are the days of our father,
who crossed the prancing rope – a Fred Astaire,

careless and weightless, who wouldn’t come down to earth.
Gone are the nights of our starry mother, who hovered
high above us in a canopy of air
fit for the acrobatic age of our birth.

In those blue and yellow days, sheer joy shivered
on superhuman wings. We felt no fear
as we ourselves performed; it was not worth
our while to look for a safety net. We never

looked to the future, either. Don’t look back,
they said – an altogether different trick.


Michael Caines lives in London, and has had recent poems commended in the Battered Moons and Culpepper’s Remedy competitions.

Two Poems by Coleman Bomar

Six-Legged Heart

I was the cockroach on Mom’s kitchen floor
Sliding across tile
Tendrils in the cookie jar

She was at the sink aware
Of boy with broken antennae
Holding himself like a crooked frame

Her six-legged heart
So hard to swallow

Crawling along family throat born
Sweat of wagged worn tongues
Picking through ulcer words I wanted
To feel again

But a cough

Becomes chitin Sisyphus

Maybe mouths are
Too tempting
As damp spaces
Maybe throats detour
The Heart
Maybe words are too small
For sad insect sifting

Rose Pierced and Walking

A tiger trapped in denim
Wreathed with smoke
And cuts her own hair
Looking for bird’s nests
In letters of restaurant signs
Or on billboards

Hope is the chirping
Holes up outside her head
Having babies
Visiting often

She’s a strutting rose
Whose roots walk
The blunt end of razors
Fizzing through boney
Bits of injected arm

Fairies play metal
On her petals
When spoons stop burning
And crystals freeze over
Under the seat
Of an octagon-wheeled
El Camino

She drives off seeking lost

As if lost be a lady
And she be a rose
Stunting without
A few grams of dirt
Needling her fertile thorns
Burying the Sun


Coleman Bomar is a poet who currently resides in Middle Tennessee. He’d rather write about bathroom graffiti as opposed to sunny days and dewy mornings even though he loves them. His works have been featured by Showbear Family Circus Liberal Arts Magazine, Prometheus Dreaming, and SOFTBLOW to name a few.