I was twenty-two, pretty maybe. It was a small twon
county fair: hot dogs, freak show, cotton candy,
and heavy wheels laden with light,
all tuned to the gaudy air.

The Octopus—remember that one? Eight
arms like extended girders, the thing was a metal
Shiva juggling worlds: a cup spun at the end
of each madly oscillating arm, every cup
overfull of squealing kids or lovers drunk
on the whip-sharp unexpected torque
toward the expected rapture.

He was maybe twenty-two, bare-chested, tanned
and gleaming in the southern September night,
a kind of summer in the lights that played
across him as he pulled levers set to arm
the bright contraption with speed and plunge,
with whirl and rise. His hair was almost red
in the lights’ translation. Not many
riders yet, when suddenly he leapt
onto one of the metal arms in its low sweep
and rose with it. And laughed.

I thought it might be for me, this showing
off. He jumped onto the next arm as it rose,
went up with it, then landed easy on the ground.
He vaulted the lowered ones as they went by,
stepped up again, and down again, then ducked
under so a steel arm grazed his cap. How long
ago it was.
How long did I stand and watch
that wild control before I turned
to find my husband and my child?

He’s likely dead now. Or deep asleep
in some wine-dark room, some ragged dream.
I think no golden years follow that life,
though I still see him shining new
against black sky and turning stars—
chancing it, taking on the monster,
winning, dancing it.

:: Betty Adcock, Slantwise (LSU, 2008)

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