Volume 15 • Number 1 • Spring-Summer 2023

Kimberly J. Brown

The Gymnast

Uneven Parallel Bars

She tugs at the leather cowhide grips, dusts them with chalk, spritzes them with water. Swath of protection for the palms, grips aid in hanging on during repeated circular motions. She’s ready to begin. Slight lurch forward to grasp the wood: the gymnast swings loosely but in deliberately structured formations. Kip to a handstand: elongate the body, then retract it like a spring to slink close to the bar. Ride the momentum: pirouette, release, twist, regrasp. Repeat until the climax: giant swings, handstands. Build the momentum like the playground game of crack the whip. [Split‑second intrusive image: his face!] She spins, the uneven parallel bars flex, g‑forces build, until fling! Release the grasp and… suspension. Through the air the gymnast flies.

Gone from view: the worst falls, the tears, the sweat, the six to eight hours of training a day. The lost childhood.

Balance Beam

She leaps. Standing on one leg, she spins on the ball of her foot. She inverts into a handstand, balances her body upside-down. Muscle memory. To lose contact with a mere four inches of plank. To back handspring, or back flip, or all of these in succession, to a layout step out. [Split‑second intrusive memory: “This is part of my examination.”(1)] The gymnast dismounts with two back handsprings, two flips. She raises her arms toward the heavens, marks the landing with a triumphant stretch. Her frilly, flared fingertips reach to the ceiling, fingers splayed softly like rose petals, layered.

One little girl, hundreds of little girls. A call to action, ignored.

Floor Exercise

“Mark.” She reaches arms to the ceiling, smiles a brilliant smile. This signals to the judges that she’s ready to begin. One minute and thirty seconds: the duration of a floor routine. The gymnast steps with pointed toes onto the mat, walks artistically like a show pony. Strike a pose, hold. Wait for the music to begin. Chassé step into the corner to begin the tumbling pass. Cross the diagonal, cartwheel into a round off, whip back (back handspring without touching the arms), double layout (backward, straight-bodied flips) with a half twist. Land on the mat and take no steps. Commentator Tim Daggett’s oft quoted quip, “Gymnastics 101. Fly high, and stick the landing.” Round off, back handspring, double back flip in the laid‑out position. [Split‑second intrusive sensation: his coarse hands.] She flies so high, the landing bounces her out of bounds. Oh, that’ll be a three tenths deduction! But no matter, the gymnast finishes the routine: dancing, leaping, dazzling.

Condition them as babies: naïve, helpless lambs. Wrap them in a crinkly candy wrapper of profits. Abuse culture? Hush. Don’t speak of such unpleasantness.


The brief sprint down the runway: determined, fierce, fast! The gymnast cartwheels into a round-off back‑handspring and punches her feet onto the springboard. Launching backwards, she adds a half twist onto the vaulting platform. The gymnast’s body “blocks” with straight arms in a momentary touch of the hands. She soars into the air, pulls arms into the ribcage to initiate two twists. Abdomen tight, legs glued together, toes pointed, she senses her place in the air. She flies, flips, eyes roll backward. [Split‑second intrusive echo: “…like serving innocent children up to a pedophile on a silver platter.”(2)] The gymnast lands the trick and grimaces. She takes several steps backward to right herself.

Sources: (1) Athlete A. Dir. Bonni Cohen & Jon Shenk. Perf. Maggie Nichols, et al. Netflix, 2020. Film. (2) “Gymnasts testify as Congress investigates FBI's handling of Larry Nassar sexual abuse case.” Good Morning America. ABC. 15 Sept. 2021. Television.

Kimberly J. Brown is the author of The I-35W Bridge Collapse: A Survivor's Account of America's Crumbling Infrastructure (Potomac Books, 2018), a finalist for the 2019 Minnesota Book Award in nonfiction. Her writing has appeared in The Under Review, Puerto Del Sol; and Queer Voices: Poetry, Prose, Pride!; amongst others. She’s been a Minnesota State Arts Board grantee and a winner of a Loft Literary Center mentorship. She holds an MFA from Hamline University.