Helen Guri,

Annie Edson Taylor was sixty-three years old
when she became the first person to survive
Niagara Falls in a barrel
and I was six
in the carpeted section of the basement
humping a large brown corduroy
pillow the length of my torso.
It was 1901. Annie had a mattress inside
as cushioning—I could not crawl
inside my pillow so for safety
wound a skipping rope
around it and my body
arms tucked neatly in, yanking
the end with my teeth to get it tight
this was important.
The river moved swiftly
to the edge of my experience and I
went over and over
understanding perfectly
pleasure and
deadly risk. The falls—
how people had died
and people kept attempting.
I had probably seen a documentary.
People speak of becoming famous
as a process that begins when you are discovered.
Annie was discovered at the bottom of the falls.
I was not. The barrel was Annie’s retirement
plan. She thought it would protect her
from poverty, and it is true
when she was in the barrel
she was not in poverty.
She was inside her lived experience.
Later Annie said she would rather stare straight
into a cannon about to blow
than go over the falls that way again
but it is impossible to know if she really meant it
or if she was just saying what you have to say
when you’ve been discovered—
what power wants to hear. What power wants to hear
is a barrel holds a secret life in a strong current
off a cliff you die the end.
Dying sucked you sure won’t
try that again. What power wants to hear
is a barrel holds a secret life in
a strong current oh no
not the end again, that sucks, try saying it
a few more times, with feeling
power likes repetition
slow repeated motion is the surest
way to push her over the edge.
Everyone dies eventually.
Meanwhile I keep discovering myself
then talking. I have to
say what I want to hear
when I am found.
I’m becoming more
and more well known.