for Alex Honnold, 2011
You say finger locking feels very exposed. I’ll never know how
my body feels relying on skill to live, or do we all know how it feels
Alex? At any altitude the heart could stop, lungs could collapse.
I don’t mean what you’re doing isn’t dangerous, I just mean I understand
why you do it. Living in a van so you can climb all the time is some kind of
cousin to riding 11 hours on a bus to read one poem, then riding 11 hours
back home. I’m not even sure what home is anymore. I don’t think it’s your
van that smells like socks and underarms or the bus with its freezing
air climbing up the headboard of my dirty window, a pair of pants
for my pillow. It’s not in front of the cameras that follow you up Half Dome
or in the spotlight on the stage I read from. It’s not your mother’s house,
where you leave most of your clothes, or my house whose woodwork
made me cry when I first walked in. You and I both know, some
things just have to be done. And whatever that is, we call it home.
I take a pen, lock my fingers around it, and it feels very exposed.
Sometimes every muscle aches from this exposure and sometimes
I ache from failure to expose anything. Either way, the poems
don’t give a damn about me, the rocks you climb don’t care
about you either, and it doesn’t even matter. I can’t stop writing
any more than you can stop climbing. They say poets die first. One day
neither of us will be here. All that will matter is that we did what we came
here to do, even if everything and everyone else in our lives, including ourselves,
came in second. Some say you’re selfish, others say no, you’d be selfish if
you had a wife and kids. What would they say about me? Filthy house, no
dinner on the table, I moved back here to be closer to family and now I don’t even
visit them. No rope, this wife and mother’s version of free solo. I’ve jammed
my whole life into these poems, so if I fall first, remind them to bury
me in words. And if you fall first, we already know in stone.
As if my body doesn’t know
my body. As if abnormal equals
illness. As if I could be sick
and not know. As if, as if,
as if the womb is not a heart,
as if the heart wouldn’t cry,
as if this should be a time of action
instead of reflection. As I begin
my fourth month of bleeding,
having our last conversation, we
have loved each other deeply. I
am healthy. This is healthy. You
will not scrape away a pure thing.
Irrelevant swelling. Ignore
is illusion. Resume movement.
Kelli Stevens Kane is a poet, playwright, and oral historian. She’s a Cave Canem Fellow and an August Wilson Center Fellow, and has received Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh grants from The Pittsburgh Foundation. She’s studied at VONA, Hurston/Wright, and Callaloo. She’s read her poetry and oral history, and performed her one woman show, BIG GEORGE, nationally. Her work is published in North American Review, Little Patuxent Review, Split This Rock, Under a Warm Green Linden, Painted Bride Quarterly, and African Voices. For more information, visit kellistevenskane.com.