The Wheel

Claudia Emerson

Once a year, the carnival people travel

             the county schools and give out free tickets

                            to us children — wheedling power at home.

And so my father ends up in the Bingo tent,

             placing dried pinto beans on tired numbers,

                          winning the free game, a chance at something,

while my mother, joyless, patient, watches me,

              her purse clutched tight against strangers, evening

                           itself. Here, there are the usual gilts

and shoats, ribboned hogs, calves — a ring in the nose

             of a bull: creatures we will slaughter

                          later and talk over at the table, those ribbons

forgotten in a drawer. But the clowns

             are here, the concessions, the smell of burned

                            sugar, seared salt, and we are here beneath

painted lights, a confusion of sound —

             canned song and the screams of country children

                           taught silence — made briefly bold with the artifice

of joy. The carousel I refuse, and the tired

             ponies in their dusty ring of misery.

                           Everything else, the scrambler, the roller coaster

that hurtles my brother through the air — too dangerous,

              too loud — the ferris wheel is the one something

                           my mother and I can agree on, and so

I concede to choose it, the up and over

              physics that no longer thrills anyone.

                           I can already understand the ease of it,

the predictable safety in something

              made with the same materials as the simplest

                           bridge we crossed to get here: steel, iron

rivets, the easy welds, girders, bolts, and cables,

              the soul of a pinion gear the axis —

                           built with the same tools, same labor, the industry

the same. The sweating huckster will let me

              ride longer, no one in line for the spine made circle,

                           its bent taken to extreme: its span time —

not distance — bridging nothing much, this day

              with the next, this hour the arc. My ticket

                           was free, to see what I always saw —

but aslant — from the bright gondola’s cradle-sway —

              the same fields, fenced horizon line, stalks of corn

                           and wheat, tobacco, soybeans, closer and farther,

to feel the breeze that comes along the river, the breeze

              the wheel makes itself, the carnival rising

                           and falling that will be gone in the morning.

Motion’s old architecture, this tired amusement,

              nothing to break, nothing to ruin, little

                           to fail it but my attention — that turning

in my gut gravity, like love, immortal,

              if weary, and what the wheel lifts me through,

                           stately and serene, it will resist

with the same resolve in ferrying me back down.

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