Under the Big Top

Gillian Devereux

No one notices the night sky.
            They count stars or follow the moon
through all its languid phases, blinded

            by the illusion of light. No one sees
the backdrop, the shadow that shapes
            and guards each delicate constellation.

Each star spins on invisible wire, falls
            effortlessly into its assigned position
and not one person applauds. No one could

            expect anything less -- from a star,
from the sky. I fall night after night,
            netless and alone. I trained for this

my whole life, spent years in the air
            learning to dive through the white
blare of spotlight; the physics of flight

            swinging me over the bar
and farther, a solitary wheeling circle,
            all flash and spiral and silver sparkle.

But nobody ever sees me, my body.
            Physics is like that. And math always
works without the story, without the trapeze

            or the aerialist who starts from rest, swings
downward, lets go, falls freely. Gravity’s work
            can be expressed in the equation

W=mgh, where m is the mass of the person
            and h the magnitude of the vertical component.
I begin as pure potential, the mechanical energy

            of desire and skill, and conserve this force
no matter which path I take towards the ground,
            towards the finale. Anyone may calculate

my velocity, independent of my individual mass,
            my individual presence. Anyone may admire
a star, though the sky remains a vast unknown.