Sky Ladder

After Cai Guo-Qiang

Quick, before the sun
rises, get up one more
time, my grandmother.
The artist won’t mind
if you borrow
his sky ladder.
Place your foot
on the bottom rung
and keep climbing,
even though
you’re a skeleton
with a broken neck
from falling downstairs
on Guy Fawkes night.
The ladder is wrapped
in gunpowder, and he’s
lit the touchpaper.
Your bones are ascending
firecrackers.
You’re half a kilometer
high now, halfway
to the universe,
my joy-gardener.
I hope you find a
garden with rich black
soil for your black
roses, hybrids like you—
half white half Indian,
half woman half flower,
their roots twined
through your skull,
you who were transplanted
among the pale roses
of a British family.
Your skin now a mix
of photons and soot.
What do you find up there?
Is there a hothouse?
Are there alien hands
with deft brushes
pollinating stars?
Remember how
your tomatoes kept
yielding more planets?
Are there constellations
of exotic fruit now
you’ve reached the top?
Have you gone back
enough in space-time
to when you were alive?
The ladder is charred,
the hot air balloon
that held it up
is about to collapse.
The explosions are over.
Cai showers his head
with champagne, as his
100-year-old granny
watches on her cell phone.
Did you see it? He asks,
did you hear the whoosh,
the rat-tat-tat
at the starry door?
You can go back
to sleep now, he tells her.
Go back to sleep,
I tell you, but first,
if you’re hungry,
have a snack on one
of those quasars,
before you dream again
of the tumble
through air to
the stone landing,
fireworks the last
thing you hear.

More Poems by Pascale Petit