My Daughter At The Gymnastics Party

When I sat for a moment in the bleachers
of the lower-school gym
to watch, one by one, the girls of my daughter's kindergarten
climb the fat rope hung over the Styrofoam pit,
I remembered my sweet exasperated mother
and those shifting faces of injury
that followed me like an odor to ball games and practices,
playgrounds of monkey bars
and trampolines, those wilted children sprouting daily
in that garden of trauma behind her eyes.

Then Rachel's turn,
the smallest child in class, and up she went, legs twined
on the rope, ponytail swinging, fifteen, twenty,
twenty-five feet, the pink tendrils of her leotard
climbing without effort
until she'd cleared the lower rafters.
She looked down, then up, hanging in that balance
of pride and fear,
then glancing
toward the bleachers to see if I watched, let go
her left hand, unworried by that boy
with the waffled skull, stiff and turning blue
under the belly of a horse,
or the Christmas Eve skater on Cagle's Lake,
her face a black plum
against the bottom of the ice.

by David Bottoms

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