Iris Tillman

Grand Blondin


If I were the Grand Blondin,
   I’d walk backwards, blindfolded,
even carry a man on my shoulders
on a tightrope, its steel strings strumming
above Niagara Falls, so I had better
know how to keep my balance or my end
lies two hundred feet below where furious
water will catch and throw me under.
    Smash-ups wait at every intersection,
my father said, when he took me out
for a driving lesson. Trouble ahead,
if I didn’t pay attention, swayed a little
too far out like another funambulist who forgot
to take his shoes off on his last trip across
despite having walked more than once
over Niagara.
    A night came, when leaving a bar
in Canada, he stepped out in his suit,
and his wingtips got him, left no room
to shift his body’s weight, as may happen
when I open my car door to get in, tipsy, dreaming
of escape, and drive down the wrong side
of the road. There will be no way then
to know what pitched me out.


Pulling weeds


he’s on the lawn again sprawled
leaning into dirt
head propped on one hand
arm bent at the elbow

with the other he probes grass

finger and thumb
pinch puny dandelions
until heads roll

not a mower
he’s picky about what he plucks
finds irregular growth
akin to disobedience

or ugliness

takes care to untangle
the clot
before he rips it out

like ill formed children
what’s bad can’t flourish

his daughters won’t take
the shape he wants
won’t mouth his rhymes

it’s enough to put a man
into a rage
to yank them out
one after another

until he gives up
on what can’t be tamed


Sidewalk Photograph


The woman in this picture wants to rise from her chair
and walk away.  If you were to ask her, she’d deny it. 

I know because she’s my mother, and marriage has soured her.
She’s tired of children, this girl in particular with her unruly hair

and roller skates, who’s not yet four but grabs her father’s attention. 
He’s behind the camera and doesn’t notice his wife’s growing

annoyed while he focuses on his daughter. She’s almost
lost her balance as the wheels pull her feet apart,

jerk her body forward, but her arms have a certain flair,
and you can tell she’ll find the center, free herself to glide,

one skate glancing past the other. She’ll be sailing soon,
waving to her stern-faced mother, smiling for her father.

        return to poetry

Iris Tillman grew up in Brooklyn, NY and published poems as an undergraduate at Smith College. After a long career in publishing, she currently coedits Documentary Arts and Culture, a book series published by Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies and the University of North Carolina Press. A poem of hers appeared in the fall 2011 issue of Tar River Poetry, and she has several poems forthcoming in Women’s Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal and in and Love, a poetry anthology to be published by Jacar Press.