I can burn the pictures, but not the poems
since I published them in books, which are on shelves
in libraries and in people's homes.

Denise Duhamel, "Old Love Poems" from Issue 11

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Douglas Goetsch

Douglas Goetsch is the author of three books of poems—most recently, Nameless Boy (Carnegie Mellon)—and four chapbooks. He is an itinerant teacher of poetry and meditation, and is the founding editor of Jane Street Press.

Back Flip

I bet I could do a back flip right now.
I’ve got a feeling they’re not as hard
as we think. They’re just dangerous.
I’m thinking of going for it right here
in my living room with no witness
except for the dog, who enjoys watching
me practice Tai Chi, as my wife walks
through snickering, “What’re you going
to do, inner peace ’em to death?”

Let’s say I walked into an appliance store
where two men were stealing televisions
and I did a back flip, causing one
of them to turn to the other and say
through his ski mask, “Why do you think
that bald guy did a back flip?”
and in that moment of hesitation
the authorities swoop in to nab them.
Or what if I were caught
in an embarrassing lie at a dinner party
and instead of trying to explain myself
I calmly stepped away from the table and
executed a back flip, causing my friends
to remark, “What an unusual thing for Doug
to do. I wouldn’t have expected that.” Thus
revealing a facet of myself more worthy
of discussion than the embarrassment
moments earlier, all because of a back flip

which, as I say, I could probably do right now—
and even if you doubt such a claim,
we know it’s at least possible, not like
when we were kids tying curtains
around our necks and sprinting across
the backyard pretending to be Superman.
There was a boy in the news who believed
so hard he could fly they found him
in a Superman costume with his arms
outstretched at the bottom of a quarry.
Anyway I’m saying a back flip is possible—
more than possible, for I have
maintained bodily flexibility
through my 30s and into my 40s,
plus I’m generally good at committing
to things, which I’m guessing would
be a key to effective back flipping.

I see it as no harder than the leap
your average television detective makes
from one rooftop to another—which
only seems like a big deal because
it’s high up, plus they’re wearing
suits and ties, the pursuit of criminals
being a formal occasion. Anyhow I
think I could cover that no problemo—
not only me but you too, and that’s
my point: a lot of us could do a back flip.
We just don’t know it! We have no idea
what we are capable of, and this is
how the world keeps us in check—
everyone except for the stunt men,
and the ones who run off and join the circus,
or tear up their passports and go native,
or change their sex and become lounge singers,
or stand their ground in front of a tank.
If I do this back flip there’s no telling
what I’ll do next. Or maybe I’ll keep it
a secret, and remain an ordinary civilian,
humble and quiet as I’ve been,
though with the knowledge
of what I’m capable of
buzzing inside me.