Saturday, September 27, 2014

In Praise Of Tightrope Walkers

To listen to an audio recital of the poem, click here

For Charles Blondin

From "Blondin: His Life and Performances"
 (courtesy of Smithsonian Institute)

Charles Blondin
I sing to you on your birthday
a song of praise
knowing full well that no one else
has even heard of you
Blondin? Blondin?
Isn’t he a pop star, a footballer?
Wasn’t he that fascist who?
No, just a moment, I saw him in that film.
Then he must have been a friend of Byron’s?
A Symbolist poet? A politician?

The truth is
he was none
but he was also all of these
for all of these walk tightropes
one way or the other
His real name was Jean-Francois Gravelet
though he styled himself Charles Blondin
and he was first presented to the public
aged five in Saint-Omer
as “The Little Wonder”

And what a wonder!
Circus tightropes anyone can do
with a little bit of training
a harness and a safety net
even the unharnessed headstands and the somersaults
that were his speciality

But Niagara Falls
on a rope stretched 160 feet above the surging water!
With a sack over his head!
Trundling a wheelbarrow!
With a man on his back!
On stilts!

         One time, he got so carried away 
         by the need to entertain the thousands

         who turned out to watch him crossing 
         that he stopped half-way  
         set up a portable grill 
         cooked and ate an omelette 
         then had a marksman with a shotgun 
         in a tugboat down below 
         fire a bull’s-eye through the hat 
         that he was wearing

  Where are you now 
   heirs and followers of Blondin 
   little wonders of the high tightrope? 
   Where are the artist Blondins 
   the politician Blondins

   the scientist Blondins? 
   Where are you when we need you? 
   Have you all retired as he did 
   to that park in Ealing 
   where the streams are forded 
   by neat bridges made of planks 
   precisely wide enough for wheelchairs 
   where the nearest thing to a tightrope 
   is on pulleys in the kiddies’ playground 
   supervised by trained child-minders 
   dug in with cement to health and safety guidelines, 
   and three-foot pile rugs to catch a fall 
   from what is anyway just six feet?

"In Praise Of Tightrope Walkers" is published in "Welcome To My World, Selected Poems 1973-2013", The Argaman Press. Click here to purchase the book.

Copyright © 2014 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press

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