Kara Dorris – Tightrope Bird

Tightrope Bird (or, she had always been the white noise of potential)

She had always been the white noise of potential, the almost of song, the ghost murmur of background static.

Everyone starts praising the view. Oh, how far the eye can see from such a tall tower, they say, how peaceful. It really puts life into perspective. What they don’t tell you is that the girl was born blind. & it could happen to anyone.

Her captor always said, if you stay close to the sun, stare directly at it, day after day, the darkness will be eradicated.

She always replied, if all you can do is see with your eyes, why bother?

What do you think happened to an old tower construction crane that no longer worked? Someone bought it. Turned it into an art instillation or a windmill or a home. Or a cage. A makeshift bed. A desk. She filled in the console of buttons with mud, clay, grass, various trash—glass, hair, candy bar wrappers—whatever the birds brought her. They taught her how to nest. &, so, they nested inside her as well. Her prison, her hair, her clothes as grime & time layered & layered.

A key could be found for anything. Her captor had the key keyed to a remote frequency. When he arrived, & he arrived less & less as time slouched by, he pushed a button & the crane slowly drifted down, then lifted her captor up. Sometimes, they only talked through window glass. Sometimes they didn’t talk at all. One looked & looked. One listened & listened to that odd heartbeat, how any heartbeat not your own felt odd. She could never find the right frequency, but she hummed & hummed & hummed to fall down.

When her captor first appeared, she would hear the silence first—no birds, no grasshoppers, no squirrels. Then, the vibrations started deep from beneath her feet. It was a kind of music, she thought.

Her eyes took on the color of the sun, a wheat field ablaze. But, still, her sightlessness never wavered.

Her captor said fine, if you want to stare into nothing, I’ll give you nothing. & purchased a tanning bed. Taped back her eyelids.

You want her dungeon master to have a face. At least a name. To be the other witch in the story (yes, every story has two witches) but what can be said? No one ever saw her captor. A disguised voice who knew how to isolate. Later, she realized, he was waiting for her to choose her own leaving.

Yes, seasons came, trees changed, birds migrated, her hair grew into her escape. Gave her balance, plaited straight down her back or twirled like two cinnamon buns curved around hard shells. Her mind was the rush of tide, the white noise of potential.

She began to spin. As she slept she weaved her hair into nets, intricate like spider webs or snowflakes. Her body’s defense, she guessed, to keep her safe when dreaming.

Everything moved through air, disturbed matter. She dreamed disturbances of force.

Her prison was the tallest thing in sight; therefore, she was. In a clearing surrounded by trees. If she could have seen, city lights twinkled in the distance.

When she was little, & could squeeze herself out the window, she would sit on the roof at night. The crane had been painted camouflage, fading into the surrounding green. But she didn’t know what camo meant. To her, everything blended. Until she learned sight must be like sound, subtle harmonies, off key notes, sharp or flat. Both about degrees. Her gradients were not between dark & light, but high & low.

No one ever saw her in the tiny window. No one heard her scream. Or sing. When she heard the traveling carnival in the distance, she knew she heard freedom. If she only acted quickly.

The ringmaster needed another tightrope walker. The last one, a master roper, thought he didn’t need the net. Who knew. Thankfully, she wasn’t afraid of heights. & if she fell to her death, how would it be any different? The ringmaster seemed hesitant at first, but intrigued. A blind tightrope walker? What a draw if she could pull it off. She tied her braids into a metal pole she used for balance. Hung stuff that sparkled & glittered when she twirled. The light, stagnant like stars, showed off just how still she learned to be. & just how precise.

She learned about cotton candy & counting steps. To feel the difference beneath her feet between grass, artificial grass, concrete, gravel. It wasn’t a super power. Just sounds so often ignored while longing with eyes to explore far away adventures. She had those urges too, but away & far had different meanings. She understood nuances of change better. Carried a recorder. Listened even harder to things that amazed & puzzled her. Created puzzles of sound. Could paint a face through touch, lived in silhouettes. & outlines. Let words fill in depth.

Eventually she learned perfect balance as the knife thrower threw knives at her. It was such a distance. The force needed required muscle. At first the knives fell short, but that knife lady was determined.

When the fortune teller said, this place blows, let’s run away, she thought, why not? Surely there’s more to life to hear. In the world beyond, she would become a disturbance of force herself, for the light or dark side hardly mattered, there was no binary, no real difference.

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About the Author

Kara Dorris is the author of Have Ruin, Will Travel (Finishing Line Press, 2019) and When the Body is a Guardrail (forthcoming, 2020). She has also published five chapbooks. Her poetry has appeared in Prairie Schooner, DIAGRAMPuerto del SolCrazyhorse, and Nine Mile as well as the anthology Beauty is a Verb. Her prose has appeared in Breath and ShadowWaxwing, and the anthology The Right Way to be Crippled and Naked. Currently, she is a visiting assistant professor of English at Illinois College. For more information, please visit karadorris.com.

Basement Hydra” (in this Wordgathering issue) and “Tightrope Bird” will appear in Dorris’s forthcoming chapbook, Carnival Bound [or, please unwrap me], co-written with Gwen Paradice, and will be published by The Cupboard Pamphlet, later this year.