Judith Skillman
The Unicycle

One wheel, it meant—
as in, one horn, unicorn,
a strange beast and therefore
on the verge of extinction.
We took the machine
in our hands, and it was easy
beneath the pines
to learn how to balance
near rumors of so and so's divorce,
of the Co-op's demise,
and Mrs. Schreiber's
checkered background
before she taught art.

We rode through events
too big for us.
The Bay of Pigs, nuclear war,
the cafeteria/bomb shelter
where we were called by sirens,
not knowing which day
the earth would end.
We knew the shock wave
would spread its shadow
over caterpillars so tame
they walked from finger to palm,
hand-fed squirrels, chipmunk
chatter on a stump.

The unicycle took us away
from the earth. Some of us
stayed upright for minutes,
some fell down in seconds flat.
No way to know
who would be good.
That's why we treasured
its single wheel,
the grease monkey hovering
just out of range, ready
to patch the hole in a tire
or tighten an axle. That boy's
talent for fixing things
was too good for chance.
He belonged in a cage,
like us, his childhood
snatched right out from under.