The Contortionist’s Teenage Daughters

by Bill Meissner
We are all high wire, all trapeze,
and he is always on the ground, wrapping himself
around himself. Come down,
He tells us. Girls can topple from those heights.
Enough tiptoeing and leaping, he says.
There’s not enough space for flying,
no room for more people in the air.

But Father, we answer, we want to be up here, where danger
holds us in its net. We love to be where we can feel
the stars, glimmering like sequins on our tights.

It’s a long ways to the hard sawdust below,
he replies. If I fell, my bones—like soft noodles—
would never break. But your bones are much too
thin, and made of glass.

We ask him: Father, how will we know what’s up there,
near the curve of the canvas sky, if we never climb?

No need to know, he replies. The air is too rare,
and the spotlights will blind you.
Look: on this solid wooden stage, I can shape my body to become
the slight waves on top of a calming pond,
or imitate the alphabet. Watch me: I can be all words at once,
but you, balanced on a wire, are only two: a gasp, or a scream.

When will we ever know how fast our hearts can race, we ask,
if all our lives we’re grounded like clumps of
children’s putty stuck to a sidewalk?

Just listen to your father, he calls:
let your spines ripple the way they’re supposed to.
Let exotic birds flutter and fly,
let them own the wind,
let them spiral
toward the sun, if they must.
You should just stay nearby, tying yourselves into bows of flesh,
soft pink gifts the world will admire.

Sorry, Father, we answer, but we can no longer hear you
with the rush of sunlight in our ears.
So we just pirouette, dancing on thin breaths of air.
Look—we turn our faces upward and smile, certain
about what we’ve suspected all along:
The sky is a place for girls,
and dreamers never fall.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Bill Meissner’s first novel, SPIRITS IN THE GRASS, about a small town ballplayer who finds the remains of an ancient Native American burial ground on a baseball field, was published in 2008 by the University of Notre Dame Press and won the Midwest Book Award. The book is available as an ebook from the UND Press. Meissner’s two books of short stories are THE ROAD TO COSMOS, [University of Notre Dame Press, 2006] and HITTING INTO THE WIND [Random House/SMU Press, Dzanc Books ebook].

Meissner has also published four books of poems: AMERICAN COMPASS, [U. of Notre Dame Press], LEARNING TO BREATHE UNDERWATER and THE SLEEPWALKER’S SON [both from Ohio U. Press], and TWIN SONS OF DIFFERENT MIRRORS [Milkweed Editions].

He is director of creative writing at St. CloudStateUniversity in Minnesota. His web page is: http://web.stcloudstate.edu/wjmeissner/

His Facebook author page is:

Three of Meissner’s poems and a trailer for SPIRITS IN THE GRASS are on youtube, accompanied by images and music.

* * * * * * * * * * * *


photo by Angela M Campbell


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