Did Philippe Petit come to Heptonstall?
At the top of the mill chimney
some hundred feet above the stream,
level with my eyes and my open mouth
is a man in a leotard. It is purple,
gleaming neon against lichen on stones
to which he clings, brighter even
than the autumn flames around us.
He pulls a rope past snagging branches.
Its other end is tied to the top
of another chimney upstream.
He hauls until the line is taut.
I sit on a moss-cushioned wall
up the hill, wishing for binoculars
or camera but not risking missing
a moment of what might ensue,
too dumbstruck to call others to see too.
A cane hanging from his belt
blooms into a parasol. He holds it
aloft as he steps out onto the wire.
I hold my breath. He pirouettes
on one foot, a full turn, carries on.
Halfway across he ventures a jump –
both feet leaving the wire. Landing
securely. Emboldened, he dances
high above the valley floor;
he spins and leaps, pliés,
jetés, ending with a flourish
into a grand arabesque. I gasp,
too in awe to applaud. He tips back
his head and laughs. He doesn’t
acknowledge his audience –
seems unaware I’m even there.
Walks on. A gust blows up the valley.
He wobbles, raises his umbrella –
as the wind dies he settles,
leaves relax on their branches.
Three pheasant fly past; they also
witness his feat. A final spring
and he’s off the other end,
releases the rope and descends.
I go inside to warm up and calm down.
When I reach to close the curtains
I see a man strolling up the slope.
Our eyes meet – I think he winks.
Jill Abram is Director of the influential collective Malika’s Poetry Kitchen. She grew up in Manchester, travelled the world and now lives in Brixton. Jill produces and presents various poetry events including the Stablemates series of poetry and conversation.