poems as hand- and foot-holds on a glass mountain

Training to Walk the Rim of the World

A stout rope strung a foot off the ground
in my neighbor’s yard, stretching
from early morning far into the night
is for practice. Kafka isn’t home much
but he lets us use it whenever

It’s said to have two ends,
but no one has seen them or will admit to
like high wire cable strung over Niagara Falls
or between the Twin Towers
for adventures of acrobats

The tension you feel in it when stepping on
is like quickness felt in a person’s limb
a familiar warmth radiates
links with ours as with cousins, ancestors

A buoyancy greets us, like stepping into a boat
the waters adjust to new weight
the rope sinks slightly then rises slightly
testing us, testing itself with us and against us

We take up the long balance bar
twice as tall as us and maybe fifty pounds
drooping at the ends like a pirate’s mustache
enough to stop a sway if leaned away from
like turning a skidding truck into its slide
we learn the trick soon enough
and shift the bar without thinking

With a little practice we are at home on the rope
and a bit lost on the ground
like sailers in port sway to imagined ground surges

We think we’re ready for the Rim
but something pauses us
and we stick with the rope
It seems to grip our feet with small paws
like a pet wanting to keep us at home

The rope glows when we step onto it at night
and the balance pole too when we take it up
Kafka used to dance on the rope
with other shadowy figures kicking and twirling
the ground would change without notice
sometimes a night sky, sometimes a roiling sea
swelling and dropping away

Once a huge whale leaped straight up
out of the darkness below us
like an articulated bus rounding a long curve
over us and the rope dragging its sullen darkness
turning a pale grey-white of old sail-cloth
in the odd neon glare of the rope
then diving again into primal emptiness

We would dream of walking the Rim
sometimes a hard surface like the upper lip
of the Coliseum’s old stones
sometimes a vivid muscular finger
directing us in what proved to be a giant circle
always the color of dawn’s lava-flow horizon
a tepid yellow-orange at a distance
warming our tired feet

Walking the rope is exhausting
then we step back on ordinary surfaces
dull and unchanging we could hardly stand
indifferent to our passage the land gives nothing back
the rope is a shared life; ours yet more not-ours

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