Inclined Plane, Pulley, Wheel & Axle

For Mary Jane                                         

I studied the euthanasia coaster,
the Lithuanian artist’s drawings, the steep
first stage of the steel thing, the sharp
drop meant to cause hypoxia to the brain,
seven inversion loops, clothoids
designed to drive passengers into brain death.

At the end of the ride, said the
artist, they would unload—Unload!—the bodies
then do it over again with
fresh comers.
Strange to think that
coasters that thrilled generations of
those four feet or taller
who climbed into the toboggans for a night of fun
could be made into death machines,
for euphoric and elegant death, said the artist—
to solve the problems of life extension.
We used to call that, long life.

We rode the old wooden coaster once.
When the bar was secured
We gripped it hard,
shrieked and screamed, which made it
all the more wonderful. My hair
blew out behind me and
my stomach
leaped up into my heart, which
jumped into my throat.

Your father came to the front door
for his weekly visit, his old car
parked in front of your handsome house.
We were off to Gwynn Oak Park with him—
your brother, you, and I. Did we ride
the Deep Dipper or the Little?
I dreaded both, but you said
your father would sit between us.
We’d be tucked in safe and we could
yell as loud as we liked.

The ascent scared me far more than
the fast drops towards earth. I hated the
creaking of the toboggan train as it
made its way to the crest.
But the plummeting was a joy,
then we curved around a bend and it
started again, the slow climb.
Three times I felt pure bliss,
heard my a scream shoot out of my head.
Your father was solid between us,
he laughed and hooted. It was
the only time I ever saw him happy.

You were a brave girl. I was uncertain
about such things as roller coasters. You
stayed in Baltimore, married, had kids.
I left as fast as I could and kept moving
You died before you were fifty, leaving me
to reconstruct my memories.

You wouldn’t like this Lithuanian artist’s notion,
his good-death coaster, the
24 passenger trip through euphoria to
quick death. Hearing him, you’d tug at
your blond hair, turn, walk
into the sunny afternoon, far
from the black toboggans.

Reprinted from A New Ulster, Issue 35, December 2015




3 thoughts on “ Inclined Plane, Pulley, Wheel & Axle

  1. The euthanasia coaster is hopefully a sci-fi horror – it was chilling to see the plans and diagrams. The rest of the poem was a delight, thinking back about Gwynn Oaks and the times there. Were you thinking of Jean Marie when writing this? Her image came to me as I was reading your poem. Thanks for always sharing your creativity and memories. Helen


    1. Helen, thanks for your note here. I don’t think Urbonas’ coaster as much sci-fi as the expression of an artist who himself grew up in an amusement park and eventually managed it for the family, then went o art school. and who is fascinated by the effects of motion on the human brain. His stuff is dark, to be sure–but thought-provoking. He has a website. The poem is really about my late cousin, Mary Jane, who was in our class year at MHS. She died at age 48. I dedicate this poem to her memory.-LSV


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