El Barril by James Thomas Stevens

Annie Edson Taylor’s Tombstone in Oakwood Cemetery, Niagara Falls, New York. Image courtesy of James Thomas Stevens

In the one-time mecca of the hard-up honeymoon,
we were both born.

Yours, a life above the waterfall. Mine, below.

And Annie Taylor? We were all schooled in her story. How Miss
Michigan schoolteacher took on the cataract at sixty-three. In her
petticoats and lace-up boots, clutching her good-luck-heart-shaped satin
pillow, she stepped into the barrel where, two days earlier, she had
placed her cat to test pilot the way. Air pressured in by a bicycle pump,
bung in the hole, mattress wrapped. And the fall, fall, fall, emerging
twenty minutes later. Only head gashed and rib bruised to proclaim:
I would sooner walk up to the mouth of a cannon, knowing it was going
to blow me to pieces than make another trip over the Fall.

And in our two year, two year, two year fall. What was bruised if not

Your C-3 vertebra, out of whack.
Slack, from practice. Your tendons overwrought,
too taut from the bow, taught by the bow.

And my base pain, in the neck.
Now I know the days you play,
curse Bach and his concerto
for a doubled violin. 

Source:  El Barril was published in Prairie Schooner, vol 89, No. 4, Winter 2015

James Thomas Stevens, Aronhió:ta’s, (Akwesasne Mohawk) attended the Institute of American Indian Arts, Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodies Poetics, and Brown University’s graduate creative writing program. Stevens, originally from Youngstown, NY, is the author of eight books of poetry, including, Combing the Snakes from His Hair, Mohawk/Samoa: Transmigrations, A Bridge Dead in the Water, The Mutual Life, Bulle/Chimere, and DisOrient, and has recently finished a new manuscript, Ohwistanó:ron Niwahsohkò:ten (The Golden Book). He is a 2000 Whiting Award recipient and teaches in the Creative Writing Department at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

View a far-reaching conversation between James Thomas Stevens and Prageeta Sharma in Bomb, issue 148, September 17, 2019, in which El Barril is discussed

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