Lytton Smith

The Tightrope Walker’s Childhood

Fear of wheatfields. Fear of groundbeetles.
Fear of where the tree trunk disappears
below ground. Fear of ground opening
to absence like the magician’s trick cabinet.
She can sleep only on water and fitfully.
Footfall is an act of brevity then she is
soundlessly at your shoulder. From stilts,
rooftops, belltowers she studies faraway,
learns to think as a wing-walker, to harness
bird’s-eye view: rivers are blue scarves,
an oxbow lake fits in the small of her back,
fields are a patchwork she can fold
about her at night. Here, afloat above
a sawdust ring, the audience’s faces
safe as farms distance has made small, rope
is all the faith she needs. This is no feat
of balance. This is belief and aversion,
this is how earth becomes afterthought.

Lytton Smith
“The Tightrope Walker’s Childhood” first appeared in Colorado Review Fall/Winter 2007; in Monster Theory (Poetry Society of America, 2008); and is from The All-Purpose Magical Tent (Nightboat Books, 2009).