Since no other machines require such uncertain boughs, like those of an apple tree up to its neck in testing children, carnival enjoyment derives from being held, cradled, rocked, shaken, tossed, flown not enough in early infancy, and hence a proprietor who is half-certain and less than half-safe, to run these machines: a crazy uncle, a carny incarnate, is necessary.
Setting up, when the 'scratch' is in the 'kitty', and 'marks' have yet to be made, lead bottles hung by their toes, and alibis put like honesty to the tip of the tongue—is vehement. When all is ready, and lights of the last 'coconut shy' are strung fantastic, and 'honeypots' find the outskirts of a field, when the 'genny' sits well at the center looking out, runs her radiant beam through so many summer snakes basking in the 'midway', only now is dusk come, and men and women, and money.
We spin counterclockwise in an imprecise carnival way on a carousel that doesn't really obey the laws of physics, following childless adults whose horse-carved faces droop momentarily as they ride. Hardened fragments of conversation fall on fat fried elephant ears, as one says: I've had enough. I've had enough. Yet silver cords rise up without deliberation, as shafts from the sky, bronzed poles laced with fingerprints tug downward, form a rhythm against which the central metallic cylinder hums, and plastic nostrils keep flaring brim to the bridle, molded plastic keeps shaking as we ride. It's over when it's over, I think I hear him say. How true! How trivial! How childish! How true.
A playful axe could be a kind of medieval guillotine and a kind of ship suspended, enclosed in sham wood architecture, could be a kind of axe swung playfully (if at all) its movement kept to an arc and no one offering their neck. I suppose even a real pirate ship could be mere driftwood set free from its riggings for long enough, and if no one intervened. And as for the sea spray of life or death and ocean swells ridiculed by regularity, technically those are part of the surroundings of the pirate ship, not the ship.
Daydreams and diadems, diadems and daydreams of pinwheels beset the concession man, the concession is confessional, the concessional lurks with over blow. Here is his plush no man's land, his soft cushion cabinet, his cotton candy finale spinning sugar from thin air. How can we pretend at moderation when there is a fundamental force at work? "But what's in it?" we keep asking, "You don't want to know" he says, as though to keep saying "If only you knew." He runs a hygrostatic fairy meat market. And stepping out of the concession sphere, we're hungry for happiness like quinine and we're dying—it's a tendency of ours, the way sugar water drips from the cone fit nicely in our hand, model of the universe but for the black hole that seals life in, or keeps it from rushing out. Infinite, infinite.
We could say that the funhouse presents the idea of a mirror, since inward eyes meet mirrors that distort, and neither distorts beyond recognition: to be lost in a rib, to be part of the glare on such glasses as walk western, to fit between the elongation of ears and have it pass as saddle, as distention of sail, belly's belittling sky mimicry, in just that order: you, not you, you. And as quick as the eversion of a sphere, you're on the other side. It was never intended to be fun—crossing the tumbling candy cane skid marks of kids, across from which a crotchety infantry looks on, fake rifle butts dropped in the grass. Parents chew cud. A dirt mouth from a dirt forest, the city, and talk of someone having a baby somewhere, all of this considered 'sidelines' from the funhouse. They wonder: who could afford to live here? Sad, sad 'hammersquashes', they.
As compare carny shantytowns that favor tin and lightweight constructibles, set up in twenty minutes. Flamingos, ominous lawn chairs, fit for the road and gypsy in their own way, lucid, traveling cities peering out from the corn husks' damnation: "bring me another iced tea," he says to her son. All of these travelers are prematurely aged, people whose own lives started generations ago, and it's time-stubble I see slack on the yellow jaw, on the hand crank pulled by the same arm, the unknowing waxy red handle. Time-glue better here than in some factory keeps the oil down like medicine in the Gravitron. And yet at some level of wood and cardboard within wood or cardboard, bones lengthen, swim in rock salt tumblers like gruff presentiments, tell porous marrow who is who in the 'bone yard', which 'queen possum' bellies do lure.
From the ground looking up, the swing ride is constellation-like: stars relaxed among themselves grasp parallel movement through n-dimensional Carny space, subsist undistracted despite worms pinned to their seats (a worm cannot be pinned to a star but only to a place one leaves behind). Side to side, or rather confined to plane along one of the many boisterous axes the view is arachnid: here a spider boogied out of a wet pole and promptly spun his own swing set—so many juicy dangling legs caricature the very concept of fun. And the ride itself? Mostly backward looks: No mother, no father, no mother, no different life—in heaven it's all just children in revolution. Like trying to sew a button on a chrysanthemum, where the metal thread feels constantly like it should snap.
I shall leave them like that, swinging constantly over the fluid field.
David Capps is a philosophy professor and poet who lives in New Haven, CT. He is the author of four chapbooks: Poems from the First Voyage (The Nasiona Press, 2019), A Non-Grecian Non-Urn (Yavanika Press, 2019), Colossi (Kelsay Books, 2020) and Wheatfield with a Reaper (Akinoga Press, forthcoming).