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Arc Poetry Magazine - Poem of the Year - Readers' Choice

Medway River, Carousel

The carousel cresting down the Medway River, half submerged, the horses dragging.
We used to drive past it at the fairgrounds out in Caledonia, housed in a green painted building.

Round, the housing there all year, boarded up. Itís floating now, the horses turning on the water,
and Iím afraid. Eight, then twelve, running when the momentum slows just enough to allow us on,

making sure I get a horse, not a stupid turkey or donkey, even a rooster. Whatís the point.
I grab on and hold the reins, concentrate on the oiled brass fittings turning up and down,

the pull, the feel of flying. I lean out and look for my parents in the crowd, as close
as Iíll ever get to riding. This canít last. Iím seeing the whole curving thing now,

careening down the Medway in November half-dark, the water close to flooding. Thereís
my thirteen year old self, too tall for the horses, still wanting to ride, wanting

with that awful want that never fills, leaning out in the saddle, pretending, except
itís all too real. The crowd, the painted boards, the horses here only these two days,

the raucous music, smell of pink spun cotton and the juicy rush of a MacIntosh apple
bitten through the bright red candy covering that almost cracks your teeth.

Dad in a shirt and tie, talking with a salesman he knows Ė itís as if Iíve never seen him before.
The crowded exhibition hall, room after room of drawings up on the walls, pictures from every

grade-school in Queenís County, even ours. Walking until you could fall down, boys
on the steps, smoking, not one of them sees me, Iím glad they donít. Fairground dirt,

the animal barns low and quiet, the cattle steaming in their stalls, ribbons, kids. Itís night
and Iím folded, years later, into Teddyís car, streaming out to Black Point, Queensland Beach,

thereís a carousel he has to photograph, two horses, small magic thing, icon from his pictures. Iím
wearing the satin zip-up jacket that says Immaculata, high-school beauty queen, a silver mask,

thirty-eight going on seventeen. We make the shot, the windís wet
and we curl back in the car, already out of love, still playing artist and model,

for keeps, animating every still he ever made, peopling all the blank, dark frames, making
lipstick marks on the platinum pages of his former lives. Iím the mistress

of impossible things.
                                             And now the river takes it all, carries
our adolescent wishes between the rocks, along
the swirl and wash and flow

and drive and beat. Itís coming towards me,
lifting me onto the platform with the painted horses,
water-sloshed and broken, cresting

their coarse and tangled manes, hind legs
reared up, forelegs pawing Ė the thing
canít last, itís going down,

down the river, the horses sliding, nothingís
drowning but my dreams, water black
then silver, coiling,

slipping, buckling Ė cherry stained
and iron-red
beneath.

E. Alex Pierce, 2013


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