Sycamore & Ivy Poetry Contest Adult Runner-up: Falling Lesson by Anna Kelley

Anna Kelley submitted one of the most unique poems we received in our Sycamore & Ivy Fall 2016 Poetry Contest. Her poem, “Falling Lesson,” took a very interesting interpretation of the stated theme of “falling.” One of our judges said her poem is “rich with metaphor and musical language” and stated they enjoyed “its religiosity; the intermixing of sport with holy ritual.” Another judge praised it by saying it “uses wonderful imagery and has a sophisticated use of language.”

Anna Kelley is an MFA student at Syracuse University. This poem was inspired by her experience as a new member of a local roller derby team. She’s become well-acquainted with falling over the past year.

Please join us in congratulating Anna for this excellent poem, and in appreciating this unique and evocative piece of writing.

Falling Lesson

Stitch up your skates. You must trust them
without thinking twice. Breathe in the stink
of your sweat-fried padding & give thanks
for the way it holds your bones intact.
Hit the rink. If your wheels strike the tile
with the clean sound of a well-greased cog
whirring in a machine, set your breath to it.
Ball your hands into fists. Once, Bunny fell
with her fingers out & they were smashed
like soft roots under another girl’s wheels.
Let that image haunt you as you quicken
your pace, bend your knees, raise your chin
& pitch yourself forward. After the thirtieth
or thirty-first fall, the instinct to flinch
will have been pounded out of your nerves.
Smack down one knee & elbow & wrist
at a time till you’re bellied against the cold
& scratched floor. In the arc of your tumble
was a flicker of the peace you’ve spent
half your life seeking. It’s what to call on
now you’re down & stinging, what sets you
flailing like a shored fish. Hitch your knees
to your chest & fumble upward. Don’t stop
to swat the rosin powder from your legs
or the string of spit from your bottom lip.
Hurtle on. Allow yourself to feel weightless
& relish how well you dart down the track,
easy as a Jesus lizard—before the next bend
when you’re again obliged to give the body
its blast of gravity, the stomach lurch of grace.

Cover image of Gem City Roller Derby taken by David Nilsen, 2016.

One comment

  1. I appreciated how Anna Kelley does a wonderful job of conveying the grace-filled physicality of sport with its inner conflict of mental discipline and fear, I liked how the poem emphasizes the inner drama of the athlete even as it suggests the whish, rush, and crush of the race around the rink. Particularly authentic was the caution to ball one’s fingers into a fist when falling. As a guy who was once nicknamed “Knees” due to my tendency to take spills during basketball and football games, I can attest to the importance of protecting one’s digits from the stampede of others.


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