Life in the Circus

by Gwen Hart

My mother invented the high wire.
It started out as the clothesline.
She said my father never strung it tightly enough,
so the pants always bent into the dust, creased
as if kneeling in prayer.
She started scaling the T of the crossbar
and testing the tautness of the line
with her own weight. “If I fall and break my neck,” she told him,
“it’ll be your fault.” Her red dress flared
above the morning glories
like an open umbrella. Before we knew it,
there were lines everywhere. She stepped carefully
over our conversations in the kitchen,
balanced only by the broom, which could be brought
down on our heads at a moment’s notice.
Later she added plates piled with piping-hot food
to her routine and dared us to disturb her.
Sometimes, late at night, I woke to hear my father’s
voice urging her down from the bedroom ceiling,
where she practiced walking forward and backward,
turning, and standing on one leg, a goblet of fire
trembling on the pulse-point of her delicate throat,
while he lay spread-eagle in the safety net of the bed,
sick with dizziness and desire.

Gwen Hart teaches writing at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa. Her poetry collection, Lost and Found, is available from David Robert Books.