I believe in chains like I believe in
exits. I know the embrace of metal, and the cosmos
of water: where they intersect, the god of my trapped ankles
dangles me head first into a glass tank filled
with disbelief. Outside, there is a hundred-eyed mass,
a monster, a gaggle of wringing hands. It is waiting
to watch me drown.
I have a script for this thing.
Hold back the lungs from your own fear.
Forget that you are human, and become fish. But the hook
in my mouth is my own addiction. I cannot
give this up: I always see God inside this water,
inside this tank, inside the lock and the key. I’ve seen Him
in how you can slip out of Death’s mouth so easily – yet
as you slide out, you will still feel its cold exhale
playing shiver music upon your wet back. But
I cannot give this up: my throat glories
in the closeness of the knife to my neck. I know that
if I listen closely, I will hear the hallelujahs
inside the blade.
Pull yourself up by the pulleys in your stomach,
ankles and hands together. Breathe. Release. Climb up
and jump out into the open air. The applause. My
orgasm, echoed outside in their hands. I keep swearing that every crowd
knows the rhythm of my ecstasy, how it demands lungs,
how it demands air, how it demands upside down worship
inside a tank of water to release the gods inside me. You have your puja,
and I have mine: the bhakti is in the breaking free.
I know that you looked for the secret
of my escape. Do you think I would advertise
it inside this poem? There are curtains
onstage, and there is a curtain in these words. No,
you will not know how I wring myself free from Kali’s teeth
over and over again. But I will
tell you this: everything looks more magical
© 2010 Nicole Nicholson. All Rights Reserved.
This poem was written for the first prompt over at Big Tent Poetry. We were to write a poem in the persona of someone in the circus…and wanting to do something a little unusual, I thought about escape artists and the whole field of escapology. The master himself, Harry Houdini, came to mind, so I wrote a poem in his voice about one of his most famous feats, the Chinese Water Torture Cell.