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Death-Defying Acts
Death-Defying Acts
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Erin gives an overview of the book:

What does the Tattooed Lady fear? 'Some day I'll run out of skin.' Erin Keane's new book, Death-Defying Acts, is a collection of monologues by a varied cast of circus performers--the Aerialist, Zorada (a fortune teller), the Clown, the Tattooed Lady, the Lion Tamer and even the Lion. They're living on the 'existential edge' says Richard Cecil, and their stories are crazily, eerily familiar to all of us. Gumption pervades Erin Keane's fab new collection, Death-Defying Acts, the whirligig world of circus folks lit up by the poet's verve. But fabrefaction alone is never enough: Keane helps us see the aerialist's ambition as our own, how 'So many ways to fly' characterizes the carnie and the midway we call our daily lives. And here, we thought we weren't freaks. --Alan Michael Parker, author of Elephants & Butterflies What does the tattoed lady...
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What does the Tattooed Lady fear? 'Some day I'll run out of skin.' Erin Keane's new book, Death-Defying Acts, is a collection of monologues by a varied cast of circus performers--the Aerialist, Zorada (a fortune teller), the Clown, the Tattooed Lady, the Lion Tamer and even the Lion. They're living on the 'existential edge' says Richard Cecil, and their stories are crazily, eerily familiar to all of us.

Gumption pervades Erin Keane's fab new collection, Death-Defying Acts, the whirligig world of circus folks lit up by the poet's verve. But fabrefaction alone is never enough: Keane helps us see the aerialist's ambition as our own, how 'So many ways to fly' characterizes the carnie and the midway we call our daily lives. And here, we thought we weren't freaks. --Alan Michael Parker, author of Elephants & Butterflies

What does the tattoed lady fear? 'Some day I'll run out of skin.' What does the reader of Death-Defying Acts fear? 'Soon, I'll run out of poems in this wonderful book to read.' Even coulrophobes and circus haters (that's almost everybody in the twenty-first century, right?) are going to be drawn into these weird, precise, grimly funny monologues by clowns, freaks, the aerialist, the lady lion tamer, and her lion (yes, the lion gets some of the best lines in the book). Erin Keane's characters are living on the existential edge, as we all are, but they know it and we don't, usually, except at 4 a.m. on the way back from the bathroom. If you always wanted to run away to join the circus, avoid this book. If you always wanted to live near the scary edge, peering over into the abyss, read this book. You'll wish it were longer. --Richard Cecil, author of Twenty First Century Blues

Erin Keane's circus is filled with beautiful losers. The tattooed lady, clown, lion tamer, aerialist, Zorada the fortuneteller, and even the lion speak eloquently of life on the outside but inside the heart of a weird art. Who among us has not felt the beast's breath on our necks or seen our bodies covered with stories. These pages tell us what we felt and how we still feel in the dark before sleep. --Barbara Hamby, author of All-Night Lingo Tango and Babel

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The Tattooed Lady's First

At fifteen I believed I moved in a rarified
bubble, all feeling in the world contained
within, the dichotomy of in and out sharp,
a line in the crackling dust of a dark
television screen: me vs. all. That summer,

I grazed on fudgesicles in the shadow
of an abandoned power station, dragonflies
zipping in tandem through skeletal metal:
tumbling trapeze act, wings beating
a rivergreen trance. Mating in thick
August air, they hovered my sticky hand,

the clacking of Walkman cassette reels
unnoticed. I played one song ten thousand
times, my theme, headphones keeping it
private, between my ears—an illusion
of singularity, of experience. They flew off,

skimming a stagnant puddle, the fallow
transformer dull under dwindling light,
not humming. I didn't have words
for the pins and needles. A mosquito

lit down and sipped from my thigh.
I fingered the welt, blood drops
smearing my leg. The red against white,
almost membrane, almost a wing.

I knew a place. A guy with forearms
graffitti'd like boxcars. Somewhere
they won't see, I whispered. All you
have is your skin, and what it covers.

The Lion Tamer’s Act

Until you feel on your neck a dank breath
and the hint of teeth, like a new girl’s
acrylic nails, how can you know blood
rushing out through artery, in by vein?
I have learned to read a jawline:

scan for tension—too loose, he loses
focus, yawns, smacking chops. Tight
means a trap snapped shut—
the bone crush! O the girly shrieks.
I dwell in the space between.

Trained for cues, he poses still. Cup
his muzzle, spread the jaws. Nobody
told me: how I would fall into blank,
dull eyes, my lungs flattened, useless.
There’s one way in and two ways out.

When I’m in there, my mind goes
pliable, a fabric softener sheet, balled
up, then unfurled. His mouth, my head:
act natural. Count back, ten to one—
spectacle feeds on illusions of control.

The Aerialist Grounds Herself

Edge of the earth, slippered toes balance,
flexing. A platform lip, a spotlight. Freeze.

Unfrozen, instinct tips reflex: the inching
climb backwards. Stepping down, rung after rung.

Ring of mine, your perfect circle has no end, no
beginning. Rolling steps in reverse, sawdust swirling.

Swirl of ten thousand faces, a blur. Shocked
murmurs roll over me, out the door, music swelling.

Swollen hands begat swollen hands, arms without
question. One man’s door is another man’s window.

Windowless, a tent seizes air and holds. There is in
and there is out, but only within. All questions catch.

Caught in empty space, tumbling weightless, within,
a window is a door. Is a trap. Is a trapeze. Is a ledge.

A Tamed Lion’s Dilemma

Amusing enough, our games:
treat for trick, what I won’t do

for a touseled mane, a rump
steak cube. My paws press her

girly shoulders, horns grunt
our leonine waltz. My breath so

sharp on her neck. The algebra
of appetite—so much depends

on x. My cage, her ring. My
tongue lolling: she smells like syrup

& smoke. Some kinds of love
have you both on your knees:

her head inside my mouth agape.
This tension, hard to beat—

the hunger, the snack, they taste
the same: a little salty, a bit sweet.

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Note from the author coming soon...

About Erin

Erin Keane is the author of Death-Defying Acts (WordFarm, 2010), a novel-in-verse about the circus; The Gravity Soundtrack, a full-length...

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Published Reviews

Jul.28.2009

Erin Keane's The Gravity Soundtrack is, paradoxically, the most irreverent of the books considered here, as well as the most concerned with spirituality. Simultaneously playful and careful, her poems move,...

Jul.28.2009

Unlike my ex-girlfriends, The Gravity Soundtrack didn’t disappoint me at all. It’s an engaging, pleasurable read, from cover to cover. Keane, a graduate of Spalding University’s MFA program and a recent...