Can’t you see it, the blue—
edged girls all twist and tumble? How lush
the grass that lovingly accepts their figures.
Doesn’t it please you, their aesthetic collapse,
how, for a moment, they flutter like dandelion seeds?
The top-most girl falls
often—from curbs, over tree—
roots, almost anything might send her.
From any altitude the fall is pitch and roll
and to the one in flight, it’s
a reminder that a body must reach
for whatever might hold—a wrist,
the front-yard oak, any doorjamb.
She’s grown accustomed to the movement
of air around her mutable frame; nothing is enough
to stay her, to prevent the faller’s seasick sway
at the top of the staircase. The body, still
clutching the wrought-iron banister, starts
to lurch, to spill
limbs into crack and Oh. This is
the miniature of the crowd’s cry
when the red-sequined girl
slides through the hands of the man
hanging by his knees.
The thud against
one’s own wooden stairs
of hip, shoulder, temple is a foreign voice: I—I—
I am. I am. Falling. Like the downward
stroke of a paintbrush, like a river turned
cataract. People who fall
find each other by bends where
bones didn’t heal right, by scabs,
by swellings and scars and
white, white bandages
that spread over joints
or, when loosened, wag
like signal flags one might
wave overhead as welcome
or warning. The cheerleader
joins crowds gathered about
daily tragedies. Today they watch
an apartment fire; a man throws a framed
photo, a gray cat, a pocket watch
from a third story window. He must follow.
The girl thinks she’ll know
if he fell or if he jumped. Gravity has taught her
something; her skin knows the difference
between action and reaction. The man waits,
arms extended like a balancing pole.
The one foot forward, poised,
anticipates the wire’s small give.
Nancy Kuhl published her first poetry collection, In the Arbor, with Kent State University Press in 1997. Her manuscript Slip was a finalist in the New Issues Poetry contest in 2000 and a semifinalist for the Verse Press book prize last year, and her manuscript The Wife of the Left Hand was semifinalist in the University of Wisconsin and Alice James Press poetry contests. Her poems have also appeared or are forthcoming in many literary magazines, and she is co-editor of Phylum Press, a small poetry publisher. (updated 11/2003)