Carousel by Beth Anne Cooke-Cornell

You are
only four,
but I’ve watched
you ride
this carousel
a hundred
times.

You choose
carefully.
Never
the first.
Never
the freshly
painted.

It has,
always,
the brutal
urgency
of a real
pony.
Thick in the brow.
Snout buried
against
that insistent
ragtime.

How do you
decide
what isn’t yours?

That purple one,
with the white,
Olympian
breast?
Why not him?
What does he
whisper
in the ear
of his accomplice,
the sinister goat,
his thick lips
peeled
around graying
teeth?
Or maybe it’s
his pursuit
of the shrunken
giraffe,
silent
and nailed down
(for the children
who are
afraid)
that keeps you
away?

You mount
your pony
carefully,
unhelped,
and buckle
the leather strap
around your
middle.

You hold on.

You round
the familiar turn
and each time
find me
waiting
beside
an ancient
arcade cemetery.

“Come back!”
I say.

When you
pass,
I see
what you don’t.
The one
just over
your shoulder,
with the girl.
His daughter?
Maybe.
Either way,
too young
for that deeply
cut shirt.
Too young
for lounging
emptily
across
an ornamental
sled,
ambivalent
to your sacred
derby.

You don’t
see him
snap her photo,
or, like a newly
muscled boy,
stretch
above his head
(without
so much
as a glance)
to hang
between
ancient rods,
alternately
impaling
a pair of
jockeying
tigers.

You don’t see,
there, beyond
the out-of-order
swan,
and the sure
adoring
rooster,
each swing
of shoulders
and twist
of hips
revealing,
again and again,
the pale,
white
horizon
of his
stomach.
 



Beth Anne Cooke-Cornell is a Professor of Humanities at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, where she teaches literature and history.  She lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and three children.