Balancing Act – a short story by Neil Leadbeater

Balancing Act

Falling is an art. It’s a skill that has to be learnt just like any other and it takes time. All the time in the world until you hit the ground. That’s what the instructor said and Karen believed him. She trusted him implicitly.

It all started when she was a small child. She would go out into the garden, clamber up on to a low stone wall, place one foot carefully in front of the other, and walk along its ledge. All children take a delight in doing this sort of thing. I used to do it myself.

It was her father who first began to notice how well she kept her balance. Eager to please his only daughter he taught her to walk on peg stilts to help her develop her skill. Karen loved this game and showed no fear of falling.

When she was twelve, her parents bought her a juggling kit. She quickly mastered the art of keeping all the coloured balls up in the air at once. Each one seemed to rise and fall with split-second precision arriving and departing from the palm of her hand at just the right moment.

In Sunday School she heard about how the apostle Peter had tried to walk on water. The story made such a big impact that she kept returning to it many times and every time she read it she discovered something new.

When she was fully grown she became a tightrope walker. It was an ice-breaker. When anyone asked her what she did for a living, people equated it with danger.

The long hours of training were something else. She spent hours falling. Everyone falls at some time in their life, her instructor had said. It was important to know what it felt like. No matter how many times she fell, she never felt comfortable with it. She spent hours falling under his watchful gaze. Sometimes they would fall together and later they would fall apart.

It was lonely on the high wire. She was the only person in the roof space. There was nothing between her and the ground below. Not even a safety net.

One night, catching one foot in front of the other, she lost her balance. The experience of falling was not as she had known it in her training. Instead of happening quickly, it happened very slowly. She had ample time to feel the strange pain that rose in the pit of her stomach and travelled to every outer part of her body. She had time to think about the actual descent and what kind of impact the ground would make when she hit it. How would she land? Would she break any part of her anatomy? Would she ever be able to walk again? She had time to contemplate all these things for the descent was long and it was dark, terrifyingly dark, with pinpoints of light that flashed past her like glowing stars in the galaxy. It was as if she had broken away from the earth and was lost in outer space.

She tried to remember to breathe out to relax her body, to keep her arms and legs slightly bent to absorb the final impact, to think above all things of falling like a cat. The ground was a long way down. It was so far away that she woke up before she had even reached it and clutched at the bedsheet in a moment of unreality. This was the falling dream. It was the white angel who had brought it to her. Whenever she had this dream she knew that the angel had been and that it was a sign to her that she should not walk the high wire the following night. Mr Kennedy, the Head of the troupe respected that. He knew she knew everything there was to know about falling. And that was why she never did. Instead, she sat up in bed and recited to herself over and over “I am a funambulist, a rope walker, from the Latin funambulus, from funis rope, and ambulare to walk.” It helped to restore her balance, to bring her back into equilibrium so that, all things being equal, she was once more able to face the world.

On the days when she was not performing, she would study the art of the great masters in their depictions of the fall from grace (how lovely Eden was then) and the great battles where the cry went up “How are the mighty fallen.” She had a postcard of “the skating vicar” – an unlikely skater, you might think because clergy are not known for skating on ice. He looked graceful enough and was clearly having the time of his life. No fear of falling there. Later still, she would look at paintings about people who were falling in love: Daphnis and Chloe, Venus and Adonis, Romeo and Juliet…She loved to observe their rapture. Like her, when she was on the high wire, they were caught up in the moment so that no other thoughts were allowed to enter their heads. Falling apart was unthinkable. Around midnight, she thought about falling asleep. Rip van Winkle had been good at that as any child will tell you. She hoped she would never fall out of favour but would always be needed, always be loved.

Neil Leadbeater is an author, editor, essayist, poet and critic living in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is a regular reviewer for several journals including Galatea Resurrects (A Poetry Engagement) (USA) and Write Out Loud (UK).  His work has been translated into Dutch, Romanian, Spanish and Swedish.

NY Minute – a poem by Morgan Driscoll

NY Minute

I stand in the street
no cars, just sun
blazing, off the oiled tar,
my wrists extended like offerings.

Take the blood that moves
below the skin,
red. like the dawn
that barely warms this winter Sunday.

Take it, fill it with light,
leach corruption
from nighttime furies:
the heat that will not keep.

I smell the blinding steam
that rises through
the scent of wants
discarded, met and sallow,

and heave oblations;
snatched from Dionysus
strewn to Apollo.

Brunch to follow.

 

Morgan Driscoll is a commercial artist looking to express himself in ways that do not involve selling things. Poetry seems the the form most expressive, and least mercenary, so he is giving it a try. When not running a business, or raising 5 children, or drinking coffee, he occasionally explores the spiritual, quickly losing his way and retreating back to the profane.

 

From the Ashes – a poem by Caroline Johnstone

From the Ashes

Rekindle the divine spark
If life would try
To snuff it out, or
Blind with smoke and mirrors.

Be your own fire keeper.
Defend and watch the embers well.
See that from the ashes
The mighty Phoenix rise.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Glow.

Repeat.

 

Caroline Johnstone is originally from Northern Ireland, now living in Ayrshire.  She writes stories through her poems, mainly on philosophical, political and life experience themes and has been published in the UK, Ireland and the U.S. She is a member of Women Aloud NI, the Federation of Writers, Scotland, the Scottish Writers Centre and is on the Poets Advisory Group for the Scottish Poetry Library.

Baptism of Your Fire – a poem by Morgan Driscoll

Baptism of Your Fire

Full immersion pushed within,
beneath,
your smile, your skin.
Pushed below the sacred water
I came up gasping for more.
Not air,
not warmth of soft robes, not prayer,
but double dose of pure elation:
from love not asking for salvation
but righteousness, that fonts from feeling right.
A coupling to compliment, not fulfill.
I swim within your depths yet still.

Morgan Driscoll is a commercial artist looking to express himself in ways that do not involve selling things. Poetry seems the the form most expressive, and least mercenary, so he is giving it a try. When not running a business, or raising 5 children, or drinking coffee, he occasionally explores the spiritual, quickly losing his way and retreating back to the profane.

Hohokam – a poem by David Chorlton

Hohokam

A coyote barks back
at the sunlight

from among rocks marked
with directions to the stars

when the people who
were here before him

walked to the edge of the Earth
and continued

into the darkness
that spread

around the mountain each night
and gave no indication

of where the next
step leads.

David Chorlton is a transplanted European, who has lived in Phoenix since 1978. His poems have appeared in many publications online and in print, and reflect his affection for the natural world. His newest book publication is Shatter the Bell in my Ear, his translations of poems by Austrian poet Christine Lavant.

An Unrepentant Sorceress Before the Mexican Inquisition – a poem by Ray Ball

An Unrepentant Sorceress Before the Mexican Inquisition

 

the men of the cloth preached / proclaimed it was a terrible heresy for María / to cast enchantments to look upon the naked bodies of men / and know (them) / witnesses denounced her / conjuror of love and other magics / a single woman / the Dominicans were dogs / of the Lord and asked her if she knew / her invocations were sins for such divinations / were not divine / craft / she had (not) learned from a black woman / Marta the Indian mother had foretold / where her lost objects were / only  the spirits know if she found them / the inquisition records do (not) say / fearful friars ordered her to be punished / to be stripped / and whipped and shunned / nevertheless she blew the dirt away / a year passed María did (not) / learn the Creed she scorned / the sanctity of the Holy Office / churchmen decreed it / heretical depravity when they sent / her into perpetual exile / perhaps she took the Bishop’s missing / gold ring with her and found Marta on the way

 

Ray Ball, Ph.D., is a history professor, essayist, and poet. She grew up in Oklahoma and Texas, but now lives in Anchorage, Alaska. She is the author of two history books and her verse has recently appeared in Cirque, Longleaf Review, and West Texas Literary Review.

Fuzzy-Felt Utopia – a poem by Rupert Loydell

Fuzzy-Felt Utopia

I am God, and here is my fuzzy-felt utopia.
You can stick angels anywhere you like
and play the free CD of heavenly music
whilst you do so. It won’t hurt will it?

I bumped into a person from a past-life
as I deposited my coat in the cloakroom.
He was just as surprised as I was, you
never expect to catch up with yourself

when away from home. But there he was,
still as tall and lank as ever; I might
cut out a cardboard silhouette and let him
into heaven. I have to choose between

that or sending him to cup-cake hell.
What was I thinking? A palace for the dead
is such a waste of time, they are not
good company. They pass through fire,

revisit the beginning and end of time
then settle down in the corner for
their never ending life. I’d prefer
to stretch my legs, go visit distant stars.

© Rupert M Loydell

Pessach – a poem by Sally Michaelson

Pessach

Despite its name
Seder
without Dad
has no order

velvet kippah
at jaunty angle,
face flushed
from Kiddush wine

taking turns
to read
the Haggada,
cup overflowing

for Elijah to drink,
too tired
and full
to say the Birkat

Notes
Pessach Jewish holiday of Passover
Haggada prayer book recounting the Exodus Egypt
Birkat Hamazon Grace after Meals

Sally Michaelson is a conference interpreter in Brussels and her poems have been published in Lighthouse and Ink, Sweat and Tears.

New Melleray Abbey – a poem by Chuck Thompson

New Melleray Abbey

Hewn white stone, one on top of another,
side by side, immense,
Tailored to stand strong through wind and rain,
through heat and snow.

Surrounded by crops and rare ennui,
like a demanding orchestra at break,
the sky always a hymn, horizon to horizon,
blue dome, backlit, like the antiphony of candles.

Everything level, everything intentioned,
all chapters, of verse, of antiphony, of light.
Bless the Lord, Oh, bless the lord.
Hearth and relic, all divine things.

While reclining tigers in the shade of trees —
having licked clean the bloodied carcass,
called to rest now the young ones are fed —
slide hymnals into their worn wooden slots.

 

 
Chuck Thompson has an MA in English from the University of Massachusetts, and his published work includes Busy and Blessed: 10 Simple Steps for Parents Seeking Peace (Christian Insight Press, 2014). He’s also a secondary school chaplain and spiritual director in Chicago, Illinois.

First Orchestration on Reflective Space – a poem by Neil Leadbeater

First Orchestration on Reflective Space

The need for several minds. Several minds in the one mind all working to the same purpose. The first: mathematical; the second: spatial; the third: functional; the fourth: creative. The chance above all for dreamtime – the space in which you learn to dance.

Great sambas will come of it.

that easy movement that helps you swing

from one position to another

that lets you corral the length and breadth of it

into a clean, empirical curve.

Neil Leadbeater is an author, editor, essayist, poet and critic living in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is a regular reviewer for several journals including Galatea Resurrects (A Poetry Engagement) (USA) and Write Out Loud (UK).  His work has been translated into Dutch, Romanian, Spanish and Swedish.