Back arched, feet almost en pointe,
her arms relaxed at her sides,
she narrows her vision to bars
that could have been made for pain.
She sees now into the future–
her mastery of her fear,
bows her head slightly and springs
to the first bar and up, with a grace
we could have expected
but with power unforeseen.
Atop the high bar her feet reach
for the sky where she pauses
and we hear the crowd gasp
into the pause between inhale and out,
the no time eternally now.
We get to share this perfection,
the grace of a saint and reminder
of something too precious to name.
Fourteen and a perfect ten–
dropped to the ground as intended
with the twisting turning dismount.
Where could she backflip from here?
She could only go down to the grasp
and greed of the handlers,
despots, owners, and bosses who
profit from exploitation
and children turned inside out.
Locked inside her own country,
forbidden to leave except
to perform for national glory
and to strengthen a madman’s reign.
But flexible strength is hard to break.
Over mountains in moonlight
she made her escape to a new land,
new trouble and a fight again to be free.
She stumbled but regained her balance
as she’d always been able to do
and showed us a dispensation
from all our demands to be tens.
So we learn it’s no shame to be human
and to need some help from a friend.
And yes, it’s not that we fall from perfection
but how we rise up again.
I haven’t lived here long
but I can read the history
of my back woods.
A stand of beech and birch,
primary growth, have been choked
by bittersweet vines and thorns.
The invaders have twisted
our trees almost to their knees.
The woods are now a tangle
of bizarre couplings.
It’ s hard work but it feels good
to cut and burn the intruders.
But I don’t fool myself.
It is not enough to strip vines once.
I work with my children and teach them
the difference between old growth and new,
order and chaos, and how important
it is to uproot weeds of every sort
before they deform these woods
to a hopeless snake pit.
It will not be the work of one summer
but in time our land will be restored,
and I will leave to my children a garden
to make any great family proud.
© James Hannon
James Hannon is a psychotherapist in Massachusetts where he accompanies adolescents and adults recovering from addictions, illusions, and disappointments. His poems have appeared in Blue Lake Review, Cold Mountain Review, The Fear of Monkeys, Muddy River Poetry Review, Soundings East, and other journals, and in Gathered: Contemporary Quaker Poets (Sundress, 2013). His collection, The Year I Learned the Backstroke, was published by Aldrich Press.