The summer I turned ten was when I slipped
from the third tier in the little tobacco barn.
I fell like a hoecake, a dream, a tumbling star,
cartwheeled through the aromatic dark
heavy with the fragrance of cured bottom primings,
past the tier poles that flashed by
like sleeping logs or huge hungry snakes,
vision blurring, falling falling down, down,
trying to remember what you said about learning
how to fall, the right way:
          “If you climb,
you’re bound to fall. You only get one chance
to learn. You can’t take time to be scared:
save your scares for later. Go limp, to keep
your bones limber. If you have to, turn,
twist until you’re falling face down.
You got to see, to be able to pick the place
where you want to land. Hit on all fours,
like a cat you shake out of the damson tree.
You don’t fall, really: you drop yourself slow
and land rolling once you feel the dirt under your feet.
Be careful thrashing around up there: watch out
your head doesn’t knock on any of the bottom tiers
on your way down. I heard that once: ’xactly
like you busted open a watermelon on a rock
or dropped a coconut. That boy was deader
than the one in the lions’ den before Daniel
long before he hit the ground. He stepped on
a snake sleeping up on the top tier.
That’s what I mean about not wasting time
on fear: you get scared, more often than not
you lose your head. And I almost forgot:
try not to fall on any of the flue pipes.
I just re-daubed ’em day before yesterday.
Now climb on up to the top and remember
what I said.” I did. It worked one time
and once was enough.