The Juggler

March 21, 2018
Richard M. Berlin, MD

Volume 35, Issue 3

After he juggles three chainsaws and spins twenty plates balanced on sticks, he moves to the grand finale: ten Bowler hats tossed across the arena and stacked on the ringmaster’s head.

The juggler’s drum

loud with my heart’s penny.

-Paul Celan

After he juggles three chainsaws and spins

twenty plates balanced on sticks, he moves

to the grand finale: ten Bowler hats tossed

across the arena and stacked on the ringmaster’s

head. He gets to nine and misses, and misses

the tenth three more times, cheers rising

to a roar with each failure, until the drum

rolls and the spotlight finds him for the final

throw when he nails the last hat on top

of the stack and the audience stomps their praise.

Next morning, when I straighten my hat

it hits me: the misses were part of the act,

the juggler knowing the crowd would admire

his skill, but would love him even more for

his imperfections. And when I arrive

at my office, where there are no stage lights,

drum rolls or applause, and the crowd

I work will only suffer more if I screw up,

I stand under my shingle juggling

the books and briefcase in my arms,

open the lock with a silver key,

and walk up the long flight of stairs,

head bowed, hat in hand.

Dr. Berlin is Senior Affiliate in Psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. E-mail: Richard.Berlin@gmail.com. His most recent collection of poetry, PRACTICE, is published by Brick Road Poetry Press.