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Someone removes the horses and unicorns
and stations the carousel in a hotel lobby.
Barstools mark the wheel’s perimeter
so you can still go for a ride, watching
the room orbit slowly around you and
the other raw languid girls likewise drinking
martinis on a Thursday afternoon. It takes
less time to finish a drink than it does
a revolution, so a rush is never the goal.
You are there to catch up with an old
lover, who twists his wedding ring about
his finger much as the bar spins on its slow
mechanical axis. “I never imagined myself
settled and content,” he tells you. “I thought
I’d be a seeker, a solitary knower, traveling
an austere, lonely path, burdened only by my
curiosity and the ignorance I wanted to shed.”

Instead, the seeker, the solitary knower
is you. What you know are not answers
but questions, with a familiarity and
intimacy no lover has ever matched. You
stroke and caress and croon to them, and at
times they nestle contentedly beside you,
relaxing into the silence that underlies
their breathing, and yours. They are endlessly
pliant and can be posed like docile models
before an agitated painter, but they remain
a comment on the mystery, not the mystery itself.

The questions begin to speak to you in and of
a language you can understand but not voice,
like a child who recognizes but cannot say
her own name. You marshal all you know
of espionage, spying on the questions when
they think they’re alone, hoping for a moment
of unguarded candor when they discuss in vivid
specific detail the answers they surely protect.
The moment never comes, so you take them
to that rotating bar and buy them drink after
tongue-loosening drink, but they speak only
of themselves and this encrypted language
fluency in which eludes you. You look down
at your empty glass then up at the bartender as
you complete another orbit around a static room.

One day you realize questions are not
what hold you but the hold itself. You’re
in orbit but you don’t know around what.
What you know is the gravity, not
the remote object but its immediate power,
its pull, its immense manifest weight,
the seriousness of a distant force you
will eternally circle but never approach
or touch or know or escape, while your
only hope of solace or enlightenment is
a rhythmic occasional encounter
with another mute confused body
spiraling in the same ineluctable pull.

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The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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