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Dad switched the channel to PBS. Another documentary, on the circus. I was uninterested in the development of the Ringling Brothers, despite the famous museum in Wisconsin. My eyes narrowed into focus as the narrator retold a narrative of female empowerment. The participation of women in high flying acts, performing despite danger, facing an audience with determination of face, arms and legs that the world outside the tent had never considered possible for figures that had never boasted of muscles much less strength.

Inside the tent, those freaks were outside the world. Freak. Freak is almost Free. I looked up its definition.

1: not costing or charging anything

Windows bluster blow,

October air readjusts itself.

The door at the bottom of the stairs has no landing. If it's not closed, I jump.

I don't work for the power company.

So power isn't


2a: having the legal and political rights of a citizen

Is the train coming?

Howls. Ghosts.

The dog’s ears twitch.

Smoke. Sweat.

Blood without scrapes.

Scars without stitches.

Jagged ties.

b: enjoying civil and political liberty

My room is an apartment.

As named by someone else's tongue,

Who gave the bed to me,

Next to the dresser,

Stuck with clothes,

I bought myself.

c: enjoying political independence or freedom from outside domination

I pad upstairs.

Double socks.

I smack down.


The dog follows

Up with split gait.

The dog notices,

Down on double hops.

d: enjoying personal freedom : not subject to the control or domination of another You are free to do whatever you want.

The dog stays

So I do too.

Sits back on nails

For now.

Tight. White.

For a little while.

Failing grip.

If I go,

I'll be back.

So fast.

3a: not determined by anything beyond its own nature or being : choosing or capable of choosing for itself

Strings prick.

b: determined by the choice of the actor or performer

Knots twist.

c: made, done, or given voluntarily or spontaneously

For your birthday,

An improvement on the house.

An improvement?

How to choose?

Its price.

4a: relieved from or lacking something and especially something unpleasant or burdensome

b: not bound, confined, or detained by force

Add on? To the West.

But, two by fours aren't two by fours.

I never knew.

But I guess everyone does,

Dad says,

Or did.

5a: having no trade restrictions

I don't know

If I’m like everyone,

Or not,

Liked by everyone.


What caused the stiffness.

The ache.

b: not subject to government regulation

Instead of visiting the dentist every six months

Like "they" recommend.

c: not subject to restriction or official control

When I feel less

I strive to stand out..

6a: having no obligations (as to work) or commitments

I buy more.

"You have pretty sweaters," my coworkers acknowledge.

“Cute clothes.”

“Great boots.”

I have some taste,

Enough of an eye,

To create the costume

For my circus act.

b: not taken up with commitments or obligations

"Someone has a dog with white hair," my trainer notices.

I rub my feet.

My arches ache

From a day of a wandering in worn out shoes

Behind the dog hairs

I cannot escape.

I cannot hide.

White hairs.

7: having a scope not restricted by qualification

"I do. I try not to sit down at home before I come.

I can't escape his hairs," I wince.

Fatigue. Failure.


I stretch my grip.

I am no trapeze artist.

I could never join the circus

Though I ran away for years.

8a: not obstructed, restricted, or impeded


On Halloween,

I wore the traje,

The costume that isn't,


A costume.

b: not being used or occupied

Five years.

Ten years.

Thirty nine years.

c: not hampered or restricted in its normal operation

I never went to the dentist.

Since then

Four cavities

And a chipped filling.

Nothing is free.

Not even waiting.

9a: not fastened

I am single at 39.


b: not confined to a particular position or place

I have no debt.


c: capable of moving or turning in any direction

I have no children.


d: performed without apparatus

I am educated.


But, I listen to his nose.

e: done with artificial aids (such as pitons) used only for protection against falling and not for support

His leash jerks my arm.

He must be here.

So I am here.


10a: not parsimonious

Another cover letter,


Another canned jar of apples,

c: availing oneself of something without stint

Another resume correction,


Another set of directions to a place I’ve never driven,

It doesn't matter which shoes I wear,

If I don't have to walk.

If someone already

Laid the tracks.

e: overly familiar or forward in action or attitude

Another new sweater,


Another day of less not more

This is not Free(dom)

11a(1): not united with, attached to, combined with, or mixed with something else : SEPARATE

The circus tent unrolls,

To reveal its stakes.


Lines to points in the ground,

Point to lines towards the sky,

b: chemically uncombined

Manure scented

Flaps tied back.

c: not permanently attached but able to move about

Only the train cries,

The size, the color,

Of elephants,

That rock its rails to sleep.

d: capable of being used alone as a meaningful linguistic form

The line away from sunlight

Costs pennies.

12a: not literal or exact

Hours are spent.

b: not restricted by or conforming to conventional forms

Flying through air,

No nets,

No mirrors,

Knives. Fire. Teeth.


The greatest show on earth

Is not my life.

14: not allowing slavery

Tickets are cheap.

Seconds. Minutes. Hours.

15: open to all comers

Tickets to see

Cost dollars

And time.

: without charge

Official definitions leave me again considering the responsibility of writing my own world instead of living in someone else’s whether or not the separations are slim book pages or poles and tent canvas. I Google "female empowerment" "history of the circus". Nothing. The grip on my pencil flexes, in front of history, not tiger's teeth.

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