Joy to the World

Why I hate to be up in the air,
dangling in a car on a wire strung between two alps
above the village of Chamonix,
is not that much of a puzzle.
I’m afraid the thread will snap, we’ll drop
and smash apart like a music box—
the one I had when I was four, with its painted lid,
a snowy glacier winding around a tiny Swiss chalet
as if to tuck it in. When I lifted the lid,
the whirring butterfly gears played a muted song
I thought of as Joy to the World (not the Christmas tune)
because those words made me want to cry,
lying under the covers in late afternoon,
watching the honeyed light brim up in the globes of my eyes
so they wouldn’t see sleep coming out of the mountains.
A woman swallows and clenches the handrail
but does this quietly, to herself, as if her fear
were something small and tightly wound
and she wouldn’t want it played to the other two of us.
As for myself, I concentrate on looking out, not down,
as if we were thousands of miles from earth,
as if this deep into space we have left behind even nostalgia.
As if is the motor that hums and carries us
from the lower peak to the higher
in forty thousand hammering breaths,
and all our reasons—Bill’s, the woman’s, mine—for braving this height
shape into tremendous peaks on the other side of the valley,
and, highest of all, Mont Blanc—
what a friend pronounces Mount Blank and we always laugh,
but what I see now is tremendously blank,
what burns in my eyes when I look at something that white,
what chafes my sweaty palms when I think of anything that
high.