Tag Archives: circus




It’s the last day of february and the last day of flash fiction february at the dictionary project. Thanks for joining us this month and please enjoy our final piece by Alison McCabe.


mezair  n.  Dressage. a movement in which the horse makes a series of short jumps forward while standing on its hind legs.

Airs Above the Ground

Mr. Moore carries his belly in front of him as he heads for Sam. His shirt swells like a young cheek around a lollipop and, if the gray beard and heavy walk didn’t make his sex so obvious, you might ask when the baby was due. He stops directly in front of Sam so the distance between them is close and Sam can smell honey-roasted peanuts on his breath.

“Negotiations in ten,” Mr. Moore says. “You’ll want to get the drip going.”

Sam nods, as always, and follows Mr. Moore across the midway into the tent.

The sword swallower wants decaf. Sam waits for the coffee to brew and looks her way. Her hair is black and the longest he has seen. Her skin is so white it is almost blue. Her fingernails are short, bubblegum pink. She licks her lips with her tongue, split down the middle; each tip is pierced, as are her eyebrows, nose, the dimples of her cheeks, and other places, Sam guesses. On her collarbone is a tiny red apple tattoo and, below it, in script, Eve. Of course it’s unsurprising. Nothing much surprises Sam anymore. They all stand out in the exact same way.

Everyone sits around the table with Mr. Moore at the head. From what Sam can tell, a thin gentleman with an uneven smile is in charge of their crew because he does most of the talking. He talks fast, like everything is dire, and not one word, not even a syllable, can wait. The others don’t seem interested in the conversation. A large woman stands in the corner opposite Sam because the chairs are too small to support the weight of her frame. She is the biggest Sam has ever seen, though he isn’t convinced that customers would be satisfied after dishing out to view such a hefty display. It’s an old act that worked back when Jumbo was just an elephant and not the go-to size for a tub of popcorn, or a corn dog/fried pickle combo. He thinks he would like to remind Mr. Moore that practically everyone is fat these days, so really it’s nothing special, but he doesn’t want to offend the man, thickset as he is. He guesses Mr. Moore can’t afford another misstep; the paint is starting to peel on the welcome sign, and one more failed investment might be enough to topple the whole thing down.

Sam walks over to where Mr. Moore sits. “I’d drive a hard bargain with this one,” Sam whispers into his knobby ear—the one part of the man that’s small, baby-like even. On the lobe are short, blonde hairs.

“I’ll have sugar with mine, Sam,” Mr. Moore says.

“What I’m saying is we need to be cautious.”

Mr. Moore swats Sam away. The back of his hand brushes Sam’s chin. “I know what I need to be,” he says. “We don’t need to be anything.” He coughs into the top of his fist, smiles at the thin man, their spokesman. “Excuse me,” Mr. Moore says. “Now how many freaks you got?”

“You mean real ones?”

Mr. Moore nods.

“We have Sparky.” The thin man puts his hand on the shoulder of the body beside him. It’s so covered with hair you’d have trouble finding the person beneath or even the creases in his face. Except for small blue shorts, the man is exposed. “Rest assured, he rides a horse too, dressage and everything. You want capriole? You got it. You want levade? Mezair? Because you know how it is nowadays putting someone like Sparky on display with no other selling point. Everybody’s gone sensitive.”

“And the others?”

“They all got selling points. We swallow swords, eat light-bulbs, read frickin’ minds.”

“I mean where are they?”

“You’re looking at them.”

“That’s it?”

“They’re outstanding, really.”

Excluding the two businessmen, there is only the sword swallower, the large woman, Sparky, and a young man with thick, black eyebrows in an orange turban. Sam brings them coffee, already poured into mugs. He makes two trips because they are too hot to cradle in his arms all at once.

“You salaried?” Mr. Moore asks.

“Work off commission.” The thin man pauses. “Barbara gets double, though. We all agreed.” He looks up at the fat lady.

“Double?” Mr. Moore widens his eyes. “Christ, what for?”

The thin man stares at Mr. Moore and shakes his head. “We decided. We all just agreed.” He takes a pen out of his shirt pocket,  scribbles something down and passes it to Mr. Moore, under the table. Sam hovers beside him. getting stomach stapled, it says. has to happen soon.

Mr. Moore crumples the napkin and glances up at Barbara. Her cheeks and neck turn red. He lowers his head and sighs. “Okay,” he says. “Thing is you haven’t got enough for an entire act. We need our ten in one.”

“Those have been dead for God knows how long. Nobody knows what to expect anymore.”

“Well, maybe five is enough, not four though.”

“You haven’t seen what these kids can do. Sparky doing dressage, I’m telling you. We’re talking capriole, we’re talking frickin’ mezair.”

“I grew up half a mile from this boardwalk,” Mr. Moore says, “in a studio above a bar, on a blowup mattress, with three women who all claimed to be my mother. And you’re telling me there’s something I haven’t seen. I’d like to know what that is.” He shakes his head and his eyes land on Sam, who’s leaning now against a filing cabinet in the corner. Mr. Moore stares at him for a moment, mouth shut tight until his lips disappear. “Be a doll, Sam” he says, “And bring us that bundt cake. Top shelf in the fridge.”







authorphotoBorn and raised in New Jersey, Alison McCabe lives and writes in Tucson. She teaches English at the University of Arizona where, in 2010, Alison received her MFA in Fiction. She is currently at work on a novel.

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car·a·van (more gypsies)

Elephant Girl



car·a·van (ˈkarəˌvan), n. [Fr. caravone; OFr. karouan; Per. karwan, caravan],  1.  a company of travelers, especially of merchants or pilgrims traveling together for safety, as through a desert  2. a number of vehicles traveling together.  3. a large covered vehicle for passengers, circus animals, gypsies, etc.; van.  

We’re rounding out our week of caravaning (see previous two posts). Today, another joins the caravan.



Jesus Wagon


This doesn’t make a ton of sense, but when I think of a caravan, I think of Jesus.  An image lingers from the novel Quarantine by Jim Crace. The story begins as a caravan of travelers and merchants winds through the desert. A man in the group is dying. For a few days the caravan stops to allow the man to recover, but when his conditions worsen, the decision is made to leave him behind. The man’s wife is required by custom and consensus to stay with him. She has no choice, and even though the man has been a terrible and abusive mate for her, she has to leave the caravan and wait for him to die.  As the story progresses, she meets Jesus who is spending his 40 days and 40 nights alone in the desert.  That’s pretty much where my association with Jesus and caravans comes from.  Am I right in perceiving a kind of utilitarian underpinning in the philosophy of caravans?  At what point do caravans look after the individual, and at what point do the members of a caravan abandon their burdensome colleague so that the majority of the group can continue on the journey? Jim Crace’s novel Quarantine is no religious text, but it tells a good story, and it sets up two modes with regards to coping with life. There’s the Jesus paradigm and the nomad paradigm. There’s the character alone in the desert, and there’s the wagon full of passers-by. Which one am I? Am I one of the men in the caravan, or am I one of the men who watches the caravan go past?

—Timothy Dyke


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car·a·van (a new string of wagons)


Caravan 3 by Noah Saterstrom, with words by Julia Gordon


car·a·van (ˈkarəˌvan), n. [Fr. caravone; OFr. karouan; Per. karwan, caravan],  1.  a company of travelers, especially of merchants or pilgrims traveling together for safety, as through a desert  2. a number of vehicles traveling together.  3. a large covered vehicle for passengers, circus animals, gypsies, etc.; van.  (see previous post)


Caravan 1 by Noah Saterstrom, with words by Amanda Sapir



Sometimes I get lost

and then I am grateful

for noises in the dark

 —Kristen Nelson



Caravan 2 by Noah Saterstrom, with words by Frankie Rollins



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Sahara Desert Caravan


car·a·van (ˈkarəˌvan), n. [Fr. caravone; OFr. karouan; Per. karwan, caravan],  1.  a company of travelers, especially of merchants or pilgrims traveling together for safety, as through a desert  2. a number of vehicles traveling together.  3. a large covered vehicle for passengers, circus animals, gypsies, etc.; van.



My Desert Caravan:

In Tucson, I have been completely and utterly blessed to have a company of travelers in the desert. These artists, writers, thinkers are not only companions for the journey but muses for my creative endeavors. They are my large-covered vehicle, my circus animals, my gypsies. They are truthtellers. They are truthseekers. They are oracles. They speak in poetry and image and they ask me the hard questions that my soul needs to be asked but dares not ask itself. I asked some of these members of my caravan to offer their own interpretation of caravan.

And in the spirit of a caravan, these posts, which begin now, will be continuing to move, expand, and add new members throughout the week. Join us.

Join us for the journey.


"traveling through the Sahara desert in Morocco," by Izabela Szatylowicz



(((the first string of camels))))


We enter into this line of hearts, strung across the horizon of desert like sanctuaries, each with a bright, open, door. We hitch. In here: plates of tortillas and beans are passed.  Someone plays guitar. Out there: the sun spreads muscular, casually pounding all things white. We move through daily desires, drink good, strong coffee.  Drink good, strong whiskey.  Drink good, clear water.  Some sleep, pulling dusty blankets to the ears.  Some scratch marks onto paper tablets.  Some murmur.  Rustle in crates.  Finally, humming blue dusk dips wild wings into the cooling night, flings it across. We stir. We stumble out through the doors into the milky rising tongue-spill of stars.  We bring out cloths, chairs, set the fire burning.  We pass thoughts back and forth, tender and delicate as onion skins, and begin sewing the day’s most important meal.

—Frankie Rollins



~            ~            ~~~                         ~~                        ~~~~~            ~            ~~~~~~



through city lights of the soul as companions

at the helm together, one atop a camel throne

a sound around our imagination belly


to press on,  landscapes intersexual and always dramatic

to press on,  mountains plunge peaks  into ecstatic promenade

to press on, moonlight soft /sharp spreading

to press on, as viscera animal


a feast  in the bosom of the cornucopia

a perpendicular and parallel circus

our roads are story



to travel is to become one letter at a time

to be together is to form a word

landscape is our molding

—Amanda Elizabeth Sapir






Cara. Van. Cara. Van. Cara. Care. Can you car-re? How much is enough to strap on our backs? How much is too much to car-ry?  How do we know? They care, the carried, the carrying. The care itself a bundle. Within that checkered napkin, pieces of desires, imaginings, uncertainties. A spoon for serving them up, a knife for cutting through.

This care, could you hold it? Could you place it somewhere for safekeeping? In your pocket perhaps. Tucked away in the corner of the carriage, nestled with the glass bottles, as they softly rattle. This place so full of nothing that the everything rushes into it, spills over sometimes. But the everything is welcome in a place that often feels scarce. It’s scarce or it’s overflowing; there is no in between.

A place of lushness can be scarce too, it’s fullness means you sometimes forget to trim back, forget to breathe. But in this place, the dearth is more obvious. There is openness across the horizon, all the space to dream and to despair. A wide-angle shot filled with brown earth. And the sky when it breaks apart in color—purples, reds, siennas raging strong across the firmament.


— &


This caravan a blessing. This caravan a hearse. And too, a bridal train. A band with trumpets and tubas and trombones. Those, and large thrumming drums. We are cloaked in feathers. This enveloping a sort of being reborn, a tentative step forward. We throw up our open hands and scatter colored glitter in the air. Particles cascade down unto our faces and our garments. And though this path is arduous, we do not tire. We tend each other’s shoulders and feet. We whisper soft words. And when we need to, we wail. Our cries echo into the blanket of deep blue. Our laughter is our becoming.

—Lisa O’Neill



((((((((((((((((((                 ))))))))))))))))))))             (((((((((                        ))))))))))))



He comes from down there, by the river.  She comes from up there, by the sea. That one comes from everywhere, up and down, left, right, and center, a big “x” already traced across the land before she arrives.  He comes from another, still the same yet different, and makes it anyway.    She came by covered wagon and made a diagonal from corner to corner like it says in the story books. He came with a dog. She put her dog down and came without him. He came across the sea. She came flying out of the sky with no parachute but five diamond rings. She comes from somewhere in the vast grey middle, and has forgotten how she got here in the first place. We all come from the vast grey middle, and have forgotten how we got here in the first place.   We all forget how we got here in the first place.  We have all forgotten how we got here in the first place. We all stay. As we stay we forget less. As we stay we remember more. And then: he leaves across the sea.  She takes off into the sky with a rocket pack filled with mountain fuel.  She re-traces her x and decides to stop where the axes meet. He turns into a lizard and has another incarnation. Her dog comes back to life in the form of a parrot. He goes back, to the river.   She goes back, to the sea. The river is a different river. The sea is a different sea. The wagon-canvas is a cape with wings. We forget why we came.  We forget why we left.  We remember, we remember, we remember.

—Julia Gordon


— &more&more&more.to.come

Desert Caravan by Jure Oblak



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