Saturday Poem

The Juggler at Heaven's Gate

Behind the dirty table where Kristofferson is having
breakfast, there's a window that looks onto a nineteenth-
century street in Sweetwater, Wyoming. A juggler
is at work out there, wearing a top hat and a frock coat,
a little reed of a fellow keeping three sticks
in the air. Think about this for a minute.
This juggler. This amazing act of the mind and hands.
A man who juggles for a living.
Everyone in his time has known a star,
or a gunfighter. Somebody, anyway, who pushes somebody
around. But a juggler! Blue smoke hangs inside
this awful café, and over that dirty table where two
grownup men talk about a woman's future. And something,
something about the Cattlemen's Association.
But the eye keeps going back to that juggler.
That tiny spectacle. At this minute, Ella's plight
or the fate of the emigrants
is not nearly so important as this juggler's exploits.
How'd he get into the act, anyway? What's his story?
That's the story I want to know. Anybody
can wear a gun and swagger around. Or fall in love
with somebody who loves somebody else. But to juggle
for God's sake! To give your life to that.
To go with that. Juggling.

by Raymond Carver
from Where Water Comes Together With Other Water
Random House 1986