Teachers Act Up!

Thoughts on Teaching, Language, and Social Change from Melisa "Misha" Cahnmann-Taylor


I am thinking about the Herculean circus god and his splendid, sinewy body, all V back, muscle, no fat and all wisdom a’top the skittering plank to say: it’s as hard as you make it–if you come up and think it’s going to be hard, it will be; if you think ‘no problem’ it will be. Were these the words of a God or a surfer or both?

What else did he say–something about letting go; about control, to “take in the view” and breathe, yes, as if to hook legs awkwardly over the slim bar and hang like a bat were as natural as a six-year-old with a bomb pop.

Later, this Hercules and his partner, the “Safety Rope Operator God,” explain the flyer’s strength and agility aren’t necessary since momentum is more important, in other words, timing is everything when an Athena goddess holds you by the safety belt and asks you to extend body weight over the precipice of foothold and commands bending with one syllable: “Knees!” I am told not to anticipate the Gods, to “hep!” which means hop feet forward, past the insecure plank into twilight, the operator’s strong arms holding my just-in-case ropes takes over, shouts, “Legs up” and I lifted the heavy limbs, threaded awkward feet up and over the fly-bar. “Hands down!” and my hands let go and I hung like a weightless iron bauble, the torso a dangling piece of timing in a giant grandfather clock sky. “Look up, Arch your back!” and I do, imagine I’m birdlike with new ambitions for accuracy and maximum energy.

I want my body to be so much closer to perfect when he orders “Hands up,” “Grab the bar” and “Bring your feet down in a straight line” –I am a soldier at attention  “When I say forward, you swing your legs forward, ready?” I’m ready to follow orders for this first-last piece, a dismount.  When I hear “Knees!”–I become a rotating knot, a curved fist, a ball of a body rolling down to the net’s apron.  “Forward, Back, Forward, Knees” I return up the steep and narrow ladder to sky again and again and like magic or physics, my body curls as he predicted, circles and spins and I feel what the body is supposed to do, what it has rehearsed in so many other bodies before, do in my body.  This floating trust; this practiced letting go.

The mind controls destiny.  He didn’t say this but it was there when upside down I looked behind to see the catcher-god on his pendulum, his hands extended, his reach and momentum and pull so that we both hung together for extraordinary seconds, eye level with tree tops, vista to industrial summer parking lots, vacant blacktop cooled to twinkling stones, to be held then released from his agile care to the taut net’s lap, caught backside down, eyes fluttered, body unharmed.

Then it’s over.  Too quickly.  Not soon enough! screams the palms’ fire, the stunned armpits’ chorus in taffy aftermath.

The catcher, the rope operator, the pantheon of artists have done their work and I am done with being a bird, a daredevil, a better human being than I am at any other moment when I embrace gravity rather than defy it.


  1. Linary Kingdon July 9, 2012 at 10:44 am

    MISHA!!! I LOVED watching you do this!!! Very cool!! Good for you!!!


    • teachersactup-Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor July 9, 2012 at 11:17 am

      Thank you Linary! It was a pretty amazing, terrifying experience that stayed with me for over two weeks, maybe three when I could barely raise arms over my head. But to feel that daring, that airlift and lightness–well, the only way I’ll get that feeling back again is through poem-making!!!! But I am proud to say I have done circus trapeze! Hope to see you at some of the evening “Seat in the Shade” poetry readings this week!


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