Saturday, April 14, 2012

Michael Salinger - The Rock Climber

The Rock Climber
Michael Salinger

Belay off
They tell you to never look down
The average climbing rope is 50 meters long
And rated by the number of falls
It can withstand
It is expected that you are going to lose your grip
And these ropes are designed to stretch
Up to 6.5%
Absorbing your body’s weight
As it accelerates
Thirty two point one eight feet
Per second per second
Spring-backing you to a stop
Rather than snapping you in half
But with a carabineer click
You’ve unhooked yourself
Belay off
And up you scale
Chalk absorbs hand sweat
But not your fingertip pain
Trigger loaded cams
Sway at your waist
Like a cluster of colored pendulums
Picked one by one
Inserted into fissures and cracks
Then left behind
As if they were antique keys
Poking from an attic’s trunk
And you look up
Because you’ve been warned to never look down
Feeling for imperfections in the rock
Facilitating enough friction
That you may cling to its face
As you surmount this obstacle
One hand
One foot
At a time
                        It is there
And once you’ve reached the summit
Before you spy your next climb
Go ahead
Look down
See how far you’ve come
Belay off

© Michael Salinger. All rights reserved.

Yowza, I say! I love when a poet places me in a new world and teaches me about it without my even realizing, as Michael Salinger does in The Rock Climber. I mean, we go from the specifics of rope stretching 6.5% and being rated by the number of falls it'll help us survive to the totally cathartic release of looking down to see our success after we've climbed untethered. Maybe I'm alone in this, but I found that I had a truly physical reaction to the poem - quite an impressive bit of writing, indeed.

I'd love to hear Michael Salinger perform this poem. For that matter, I look forward to getting the chance to see him perform, period - he's a longtime Poetry Slam participant (and coach and board member of Poetry Slam, Inc, for that matter) and his reputation, as they say, precedes him. In the meantime, I'll have to be content reading his Pushcart Prize nominated poetry, his fantastic definitions in verse, and individual pieces like today's. Yes, it'll do for now... and that's just one reason I'm so happy to have Michael Salinger here today as part of 30 Poets/30 Days.

Yesterday, we were covered in Mud, thanks to Kate Coombs. Tomorrow... Cattail from Eric Ode! For more on 30 Poets/30 Days and ways to follow along, please click here.


tanita✿davis said...

For my brother's birthday, I just bought him membership to a climbing wall. He LOVES this stuff, and would like this poem.

Climbing, to me, is a complete freakout, knowing details about the rope and all... well, it makes a thought-provoking poem.

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Made my palms sweaty, too, remembering...
thanks very much to Michael, and to Greg for sharing this!

GrandCanyonReadingTeacher said...

The tempo of the poem got my heart racing and my palms sweating. I would never-ever try rock climbing, but it was fun experiencing it through poetry.

Amy LV said...

I am not a brave physical soul, and just reading this poem scared me. So many dead on details...yikes! It also reminded me of when our son Henry scaled a cliff at an oceanside wedding. Thank goodness there were real climbers there like Michael - they climbed up with ropes and taught him to belay. (I could barely look!) Thank you for another great day here of new poems and new physical reactions! a.

claire mcmahon said...

Well-Defined is an amazing book for teaching kids (and yourself) about vocabulary! Pick it up!

Claire McMahon

Liz Brownlee said...

Ooh hooh, you won't catch me rock-climbing, but I certainly enjoyed reading about it!

Charles Waters said...

What a daredevil of a poem eh? By the way Michael can perform poems like no one's business. He and Sara are kind people. Love them both!

Anonymous said...

Yeeks. Had my scared-of-heights heart pumping, that's for sure!