Written for Visual Verse, in response to a prompt: one image, one hour, 50-500 words (no editing).

watercolor sketch of a jousting knight in the act of falling
Unknown Artist (circa 1560) / Getty Open Content Program

Falling is a skill left behind too early in our lives. We have the memory of early attempts at sitting, standing, stepping, walking. The memory is in the soft folds of our behinds, our chests, our hands. An older child can use the lie “I fell” to excuse a torn pant knee, a bloody lip, a scuffed face. I fell, I didn’t climb up the fence to the back woods where I am not allowed. I fell, it wasn’t my brother that punched me and knocked me over. I fell, it was icy, I wasn’t drunk.

An adult might need a day of rest after a fall. Tripped on the uneven sidewalk, sprained my ankle. Fell down a few steps, need to lay in bed today.

The old ones fall and signal death. My grandmother fell while getting the mail down at the end of our steep driveway. My husband’s grandmother fell on her way to meet neighborhood friends for coffee. His stepfather fell down the stairs at home, and we aren’t sure about his birthday next month.

But to fall in a riot of color—ah! With sumptuous silk, soft leather, ribbons, stockings. A carnival of upset. One moment you think you’re looking at an impossible depiction of limbs, the next you moment you know it to be true. No cat-like elegance here. Caught in a moment between seated play—horseplay—and the impending clatter of light armor. We hope the crushing blow was indirect, no damage in the ribs. The horse’s hindhooves are stable, not braced for impact, not following the rider in descent.

Descent into what? Into a packed earthen road, an expanse, a shadow. Why can’t we fall into our shadow? It is there, waiting for us, waiting to receive. It might even stretch larger as we near it, falling ever closer to the shadow calling: “Come! Come!” But we only touch its surface, or the surface on which it is temporarily living. We cannot draw our shadows over us for comfort, nor use them to soothe our bruised and fallen bodies. The shadow does not bother to distinguish, it merges several bodies into one—horse, rider, lance. That coveted unity, all-one, made possible by proximity under the light of the sun.

Where might we belong, then? To what mystery, to what plane of being? What we see is only an in-between state. We are not in the world of the perpetrator, the pusher, the Other jouster, the partner in horseplay. Are there spectators? There must be, so richly are the horse and his rider dressed. Someone must be there to appreciate it all, but who? The naked space above the horizon could have rows of benches, loges with carved chairs, or tents and tuffets for the gathered onlookers. As a substitute, the blank beyond sports a shadowy figure, someone from another page, another dimension. Is this silhouette the ultimate target? Is the successful jouster pushing our rider out of the way so he can continue drilling through the sketchbook, unseating knight after knight? The top of the lance is clawing at the silhouetted figure from the left side, the other side, poised and ready for contact. Turn the page.

Too much color and joy to imagine that this is the beginning of the end. The rider will never fall, this cruelty is not to be. Abandoned to an eternal state of becoming, hundreds of years in freeze-frame. Soundless, though nothing quiet about the scene. Assume that you will not fall, after seeing this image. Not ever. No tumble when skiing, no stumbling on wet side paths, no slipping. This image has worked its magic across centuries, for whosoever looks upon it will remain stable and seated. The rider catches your fall, gazing upward at God through the helm’s slit.

Categorized as writing