Monday, 24 June 2013

The Last of the Wallendas

Some time ago, one of my sisters gave me a signed copy of Russell Hoban's collection of verse called The Last of the Wallendas.

Here is the title poem:

The Last of the Wallendas.

13 May, 1996

Reading the paper and shaking his head
my father looked thoughtful. "What is it?" I said.
"It's Helen Wallenda," he told me, "She's dead - 
the last of them all, and she died in her bed."
"Who were the Wallendas?" I wanted to know.
"How well I remember," he said, "when we'd go
to the circus and see them way up there so high,
and no net below them - at least that's how I
see it now in my mind, all the glitter and gleam 
of the dazzling Wallendas, the high-wire team: 
those silvery bicycles moving so slow,
with the music all breathless and Death down below,
and the balance poles wavering, catching the light
as the fearless Wallendas crossed high in the night, 
with Karl in a chair perching up at the top
and nothing below but a forty-foot drop.
All gone now - some early and some of them late,
they came off the wire and met their high fate.
Her husband, old Karl, the greatest of all,
was ten storeys up when the wind made him fall.
So brave and so daring and all of them dead!
But Helen Wallenda, she died in her bed."

So I was both surprised and delighted, following a link posted by Mark Lambert (@sitsio) on Twitter to find that a Wallenda is still alive and high-wiring.

Russell Hoban was ahead of himself...

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