A lesson in the topography of flight
Olivia Olsen


Her somersaults above the drum-roll. The cymbals' crash under the dim canvas, the way the air held her.
They loved her (their own long muscles and elastic faces containing only contortions) and they followed her always: gently lifting her over obstacles, tying the ribbons of her slippers, blowing on her soup, rocking her to sleep. So long had they been by her side, I wonder whether she knew they were there. Perhaps she believed that this was the way of the world: that glasses of water appeared at the bedside, that clothes fell upon one in the morning. That she could fly.

There was an order of monks who would cleanse themselves in this way: a lead weight was fastened to the end of a white cotton band. The monks would swallow the lead and let the ribbons travel through their bodies. When the lead emerged it was cut away, and the band pulled slowly out again through the mouth (it was important that they taste their sin).
The bands were fastened along the roofs, to snap and dance at the wind.

When a man dies gold flakes are placed in his mouth. After the cremation they are washed into the river. The boys who dive for them are lithe and shiny like eels; they plunder the floating lamps of rice and sweets; with magnets on string they dredge the river for coins. They duck and plunge as the mourners burn their dead.


"It was moonlight.

We'd done four jumps.
So, the fifth jump, we had to do by night.

A bird passed by. I cried, "There's a bird." And they told me, "You have to catch it. If you let it pass, it will pierce your parachute."

So I caught it, it was an owl. I saw its eyes shining. I thought, I must not let it escape. I have to catch it well, so I caught it and held it tight. Since it had claws, it scratched me. But I held it, and I descended."