Bridging high steel atop the Chrysler Building,
noise rising from the sweating streets below,
My feet toe in and dance among new rivets
and feel the fallen pine across the stream
rushing mountain-deep in Chouinard’s Gully,
my childhood friends taunting me to dance
where the log rots, daring me against
the long drop to the sharp rocks,
And death. I didn’t fall, but Shawátis did —
John, we called him, grabbed a limb to save
himself. We jeered, let him hang. He coiled,
hooked his leg. shinnied up fast, before the rot
gave way, the log spun, splintered down
and broke the way John broke today
when he missed the beam, fell past me,
clutching the slipping air, met the sidewalk.
I tell you, Shawátis, its holy paths we climb,
these bridges, daring the crossing, fearing
the fall, toeing among the rivets and limbs,
high above traffic, cement, water, rocks,
our prayers silent in our searching toes,
the weight of truth unsteady in the air.
He’s the strong one,
I’m the weak kid.
Gym teacher squares us
off on the smelly mat,
We circle. He takes me
belly down. Straddles.
Rides. He can’t flip me
I can’t move. Three times.
I lose. We’re done. Wobbling
I gulp hard for air. Hide
my heaving chest until
I’m calm and clothed again.
Sitting in my geometry class
I fall into Euclid’s loving arms,
Free at last, I wrestle each problem
down with my pen
pin it to the page.
Wake up and die right,
My father said to me
each boyhood morning,
as if he knew from
trying it once,
When the plane he rode in
broke up in a storm
he was wide awake.
Every morning after
he would come to whisper
Wake up and die right!
I was nine or ten —
he died right then,
but since and always
he rouses me from bed.