Crossing the Line


Crossing the Line


there is this—
the insatiable need for fact,
the coiled wire waiting to be unspooled,
two steel towers, unstrung, facing the windless gorge,
a drowsy green bird dreaming of flight, and a tiger roused by hunger pain.


Karl Wallenda, high wire walker, born January 21, 1905,
near Magdeburg, Germany, to a dancer and
trapeze artiste—by ten, balancing
in beer halls,
conceiving the great seven-man pyramid, rising three tiers high,
in the winter of thirty-eight, leaving
retirement at sixty-nine
to set
the high wire distance record (one-thousand-eight-hundred feet),
later, in a burst of wind over San Juan, falling
twelve stories to the gaping
hotel street.

Or, the hum-
mingbird (Archilochus colubris),
smallest bird in the world, alone able to hover, fanning
its wings seventy beats-per-second, producing a humming sound,
on nectar pooled in salvia, thistle,
jewelweed, and the scarlet horn of trumpet vine, weaving
a nest of spider silk, laying eggs, each spring, the size of navy beans.

Or, the four-hundred-pound tiger, biggest in the big-cat family filadae,
each tiger marked with a pattern of stripes more distinct
than fingerprints, a night-hunter, searching
animal trails
and stream beds for buffalo, deer, boar, badger and hare, creeping
within thirty feet of prey, leaping the line in the sand,
crushing throat or nape—eating men,
a rare, but tragic, case.


the terrible, taut
tension we string in the wire,
the joules and foot-pounds of work performed by like, is, and as

The Great Wallenda stepping as quiet and careful as a tiger stalking
its prey—for a moment, after the gust, hovering
mid-air, like a ruby-throated hummer
on invisible wings. The tiny green bird, floating spot in the tiger eye
of the sun—a weightless Wallenda fashioning crisscrossed lines,
bridging the blank canyon of the sky,
linking bloom-
to-tree-to-post-to-nest-to-roof-to-rim—stringing unstrung flowers
with geometric flight. The flaming orange tiger
falling like death on a face
in the grass—tiger eyes dazzling with the brilliance of emeralds
or rubies—the air humming with tension—the paws
electric with power before the deadly
arcing rush.


HERE! It is Wallenda falling. HERE! The whirring of bright, green
wings. HERE! A fiery pattern of stripes
flowing like finger-


we find the writer,
writing—balancing words on a trembling wire,
funambulist crossing the line—a focused, lyrical walking
done with fear—seeing
crouched tigers at both ends, with
need—drinking trumpet nectar from the deep ruby wells
of blooms,
with joy—walking
where no human skin has ever
touched the wind, with sheer abandon and devil-may-care—
crossing the line, stepping out, on the most wild and reckless of dares.