Joel Brouwer

The Funambulist

le cirque tzigane d’Alexandre Romanès, Paris

She slips on spotlit foot along the wire
as if testing a bath for temperature,
then in a twitch—we in the bleachers

gasp as if stabbed—skips her flimsy course,
springs to the opposite plywood perch,
and grins down at us from her swirl

of orange sherbet tulle. The orchestra—horn,
accordion, a bass held together
with twine—looses a flourish of squeal. Wish

that was the end? So do we all. But the bass groans.
She turns and faces back the way she came.
Back through the stale light of the little tent

the gypsies had to bribe who knows who or
how much for permission to pitch in this
hardpan vacant lot, back above the slack-

jawed handful of us—the kid with glasses
thick as ice cubes, another with gum stuck
in her hair, an old man smoking his pipe

with such fury his nose is a schooner
emerging from the fog—the funambulist trots,
bounces, hops, (now in reverse!) through the slap-

happy warbling of the orchestra, and
each time she reaches safe haven, turns back—
smiling!—to somersault, tiptoe, backflip

back across the chasm like a coin bet
against a broken neck. At lunch we drank
to the cease-fire and tonight the sky’s orange

with flak. She faces back the way she came,
and now a grinning monkey clambers up
to her with a blindfold clenched in his teeth.