Rock-Climbing by Terri Brint Joseph

Newly separated, my divorce pending,
I finished class at Ballet Elganova,
Entered Adventures Unlimited,
And signed up for a course
in rock climbing.

Still not quite sure what it was
When I went on my first climb
on Mount Rubosa,
I almost died of fright when I saw
What I'd agreed to do:
"I'm not a human fly,"
I objected;
"You must be crazy!
Do you think I'm Spider Woman?"

But Dan McCook,
My young teacher/guide,
Assured me
That ballarinas were "natural climbers,"
As he eyed my thigh muscles and pink shorts.

I left a lot of blood
On my first mountain,
But only because Dan forgot to tell me
To kick off the mountain face
When I slipped and had to hang by the ropes.

Later, as I learned to find finger and toe holds
On a surface slick as glass,
I panicked when I looked through
A crevice I had to leap
And saw how high I'd inched my way
up the smooth face.
"Imagine you're in a ballet class,"
Dan whispered.
"Don't look down;
Look within:
Find the mirror
across from the barre,
pretend you're en point,
and remember a dancer's balance
even in the dark."

That's all it took--
Forgetting my bleeding knees,
I scaled the face as easily
As I would do a pirouette,
Lept the crevice with a grande jeté,
And frightened my guide
by almost flying
to the peak.

"Be careful," Dan grumbled,
But his eyes were proud
Because when I'd panicked,
He'd known what to say,
What image to give me for strength,
Yes, by reminding me of who I was
And what I'd learned to do
in ballet studios
as hard to face as
this mountain of glass,
He'd cut through my mindless fear
To give me back myself
So I could climb
Like the sure-footed Amazon
he saw in me
With the beauty, grace, uncanny balance
Of a prima ballerina assoluta;

And we both forgot in
The heat and peril of Rubosa
That, although I was a beginner,
I was forty-five years old
And had retrained myself to dance
Only when I hit forty,
And that my divorce still wasn't final
And never would be
For the two of us.

But Daniel's poem is yet to come;
This is instead a poem
For a woman with strong thighs
below pink shorts
Who clung to a glass mountain
by her fingernails
And forgot her bloody knees
When she reached the summit
And stood in a shaft of golden light,
Free of habitual fears.


For more of Terri, see my page: Tribute: Terri Brint Joseph


  1. I knew Terri when she lived in Paris somewhere in the late 1980s. We spent some months together before she had a sort of breakdown. Most of the time she was living in the apartment on rue St Victoire. I helped her move, of course, when she went over to the 16th. The last I heard from her in those days was after she had gone to London. Then when we were both back in California she called me one day...


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