Suzanne Cleary
December 2003


On His Deathbed the Acrobat Tells His Daughter to Buy Land

I see now
it was never the sky
I wanted

though for years I perfected
leaps and dives, arching, curling
tucking my chin hard into my chest
to spin free
far above my shadow.

Now I see
it was always the earth
its mysterious pull
I was celebrating.
It was always to return
to the earth's hard bargain, on two feet
my arms spread like wings.

There are enough birds, Edith.
The air is full of seeds
far better than we can ever be—
invisible, merciful.
When I watched you pass the hat
I wanted to crawl into our wagon
and lie with my hands crossed over my chest.
I wanted to count the potatoes and flour
and find for once enough.
I wanted to melt my father's gold watch
and buy you a horse
and shoes of thin leather.

Remember I never asked you
to walk on your hands.
I respected your fear of heights,
of the fireworks we set off
at the end of the show.

The hard-packed earth at the center of town
where the people gathered,
their thin shoulders touching,
that was my passion.

Remember before each trick
it was the red earth
I rubbed into my palms.

from Keeping Time, Carnegie Mellon 2002.