I ran away from the circus. I'd braved
the flimsy basket-work swing and
dubious wire. A clown taught me
to put on flopping shoes, a bulbous nose.
He showed me his winterberry mouth,
his own plum eyes. He took me to talk
to the lioness. Hoopers, jugglers, I
was their changeling. I read to them
or pretended to, ran my hand down a page
but told my own story—a girl who turns
herself into a mower, rolls forward,
glistens, clacks her enemy under
her turning sickle-bar and spits him out
minus an earlobe or eyebrow; a girl
with a needle who comes while you sleep
to sew fingers together. I told death stories—
a flaming stake, the vast iced north.
An acrobat taught me to walk on my hands.
A trick rider grabbed me, stood me up
on a bay horse's back and slapped
its rump. When I fell, I was part of the act,
the magnificent death drag. The top
of the tent hid the trembling sky.
The calliope switched to a minor key.
Who did I kiss? Who touched me?
The lioness huffed and snuffled, her tongue
a bold rubber muscle. She told me to
run for it. I still breathe fire sometimes.
But I left my spring-loaded stilts,
spinning plates, shining knives.