Karrie Waarala

I've been working on a collection of circus poems based on two main characters, a sword swallower and a tattooed lady, for about three years now. This poem came about after a professional sword swallower read one of my poems and was quite distressed about how wrong-headed and dangerous my sword swallower's technique was. At first I was concerned that I'd shot way wide of the mark -- but then realized that no, this reaction indicated that I'd struck the right chord of unease that the otherness of this character's ego and obsession inspires in others. Which then got me thinking... what would the reaction of an entire phalanx of "colleagues" be to this somewhat crazed individual? Since I already had a "To the Tattooed Lady..." poem in the collection, I felt that a companion epistolary piece would answer that question in a satisfying manner.




To the Sword Swallower, c/o Pierce & Brand’s World of Dangerous Wonders

From: The Sword Swallowing Hall of Fame
Re: Your application

Dear Sir,

We regret to inform you that your application to the SSHF
has been denied.

While your achievements are impressive, we have concerns
about your methods, particularly your insistence on – no, your
harrowing need to keep your swords as sharp as crescent moons
when any swallower worth his weight in steel knows sharp
is unnecessary risk, should only be the gleam of illusion.
You make us nervous.

In addition, your application materials are incomplete,
your history imprecise, you mentor unnamed.
While we appreciate the flair for drama, really, sir, it is
most inappropriate to treat the SSHF as no more than
a matinee of rubes.  It is impossible to be born to this.
We spent years choking on this absurd skill, hauling
ourselves up the rungs of sideshow acts, earning
this slice of esteem; therefore, you must have, too.
We do not trust you.

We regret to inform you that your flamboyance, your fire,
is a detriment to our brutal art. We regret to inform you
that you do not fit here. We regret to inform you that we
cannot possibly shape our lives into single-minded scabbards
the way you have. We regret to inform you that you
are a freak. We regret to inform you that you are a freak
among freaks. We regret – dear god, do you realize
what someone with a forge for a throat could mean
to the rest of us?—to inform you. We regret…



Karrie Waarala holds an MFA from the Stonecoast program at University of Southern Maine and is a teaching artist at The Rooster Moans Poetry Cooperative. Her work has appeared in journals such as Iron Horse Literary Review, PANK, The Collagist, and Arsenic Lobster. A Pushcart Prize nominee, Karrie has also received critical acclaim for her one-woman show, LONG GONE: A Poetry Sideshow, which is based on her collection of circus poems. She really wishes she could tame tigers and swallow swords.