For Chelsea and Maz, whose wedding last weekend prompted me to dust this off.
And for Patti.
Pas de Deux on the High Wire
by John Unger Zussman
One Saturday, in our twenties,
We put up the tightrope.
Eyed it warily. No sweat,
We reassured each other.
Piece of cake.
At first, we could barely manage
A few quick steps on the rope,
Stretched taut, inches off the floor.
We’d push out tentatively,
Teeter, recover, flail, step off.
Laugh nervously, try again.
No instructor, no mentor,
Just the trying, and ourselves.
Slowly we learned to center our balance,
Arms extended, touching lightly for support.
The posts grew higher, year by year,
And our moves more intricate.
We took tumbles, gathered bruises.
When one wavers, the rope jiggles,
Endangering the other.
Once I toppled from eight feet.
She came too. It took years
To recover. The scars
Remind us how we learned.
Now we run, hand in hand, from peak to peak,
Skyscraper to skyscraper, triple pirouette,
Grand jeté, entrechat huit. I partner her
In a deep penché, the tip of her pointe shoes
Balanced on the narrow wire. It is exhilarating
And marvelous. We are confident until,
In middle age, we look down. Then we seem
Unbelievably, foolishly precarious.
Just us two. No children, families distant,
A few friends gazing up from below.
We are working without a net. It is glorious,
Yet there is always the premonition
Of the inevitable gust of wind.