The Aerialist

By Hannah Land

Being suspended on stage is like tasting the edge of the universe as it expands, Sarah told me once when I was a warm bed, and she was lonely. Like battling gods and winning. Falling in love, inside out. I used to watch her from the wings. Every night I would creep to the edge of the catwalk and curl against the railing like an animal, hungry for the shine of her hair as the silks turned and she hit the spotlight. The way she pointed her toes at the audience split me open. I was like one of the wardrobe girls, constantly sewing myself back up. 

Performing is distilling your soul into tiny droplets and sprinkling it across the theatre until the world glitters. That’s what the aerial choreographer used to say, and that’s why I fell in love with Sarah, because once you accidentally imbibe someone’s soul, it’s hard to go back. I was always tempted to miss my next cue, to surrender myself to her performance. Leaving the auditorium’s soft house lights for the cold darkness of backstage is like taking an oath of celibacy. You sacrifice the pleasure and release of watching to be a member of the crew. At least that’s what I used to tell myself.

The gentle crackling of the Clear-Com receiver in my ear kept me grounded. I cherished the performers’ trust, Sarah’s most of all. We stood close when I hooked up her safety harness for the more dangerous routines and handed her water as she returned to the wings. I saw every drop of sweat; she barely saw me at all. Invisible in blackouts but solid as a rock. That’s who I tried to be, and I almost pulled it off.

When someone dies, you realize how little of them you actually own. Suddenly you’re sharing the act of mourning with a handful of strangers, jostling to claim your stake. When someone dies on stage, you’re one in a million, clinging to your pinpoint of grief and trying to prove yourself with the nights you spent together after the audience went home. And you are totally alone. No one cares about the way she tucked your hair behind your ear or how you gave her a key even when she decided not to move in. Or how there is some broken part of you that acknowledges, as the edge of oblivion swallows you whole, that you didn’t check her harness that day. That you wanted her to fall.

About the author

Hannah Land is a poet, theatre critic, and playwright from the Washington, DC area. Her poetry has appeared in The Hunger Journal, Nightjar Review, The Mochila Review, and Third Wednesday, and her theatre reviews can be found on

next up...

Masks in Louisiana During the Latest Pandemic

By Tom Whalen