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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