Editor’s note: Stephen Kessler is the author, most recently of “Scratch Pegasus” (poems, Swan Scythe Press) and “Poems of Consummation” by Vicente Aleixandre (translation, Black Widow Press). He lives in Santa Cruz and is the editor of “The Redwood Coast Review.” “Boardwalk Odyssey” is from a work in progress.
You must pass through the purgatory of the cacophony arcade with its blasting approximations of music and blinking machines that eat your tokens in exchange for noise and flashing wheels of colored lights and bulbs
without the slightest idea. When you emerge into sunlight the Chinese circus is tumbling across the stage above the beach and spellbound mobs are applauding the acrobats, especially the girl in red silk who does handstands on stacks of chairs as if the cable holding her up were pure air, disbelief suspended in space and time. Boys are
throwing baseballs at the same metal milk bottles as always, these games, these rides, these frightful houses haunting eternity with their recurrent hot dogs and fried childhoods, romance of adolescence, eighth-grade girls made up to look like hookers strolling in search of sex when they are, without quite knowing it, sex itself at the dawn of adult regret. Riders of the machines are screaming clamped into their seats by steel bars and you can feel the terror of your first rollercoaster, fear of flying into infinity at Ocean Park in the fifties, your sister and brother powerless to prevent your death, though you have endured and survived these long decades to relive
everything several times over, even this bemusement at the parks of summer where the smells of salt and sugar and bubbling oils and lotions coat one’s skin with a strange nostalgia, current pleasures complicated by consciousness, memory infecting every moment with its endless vanishings and streams of people and their foreign faces recognized as always in the intimacy of myth. Bronzed and fleeting, ancient as Greece itself, you are again anointed with olive oil and laurels as your glistening limbs smile under the strokes of imagined hands, those
of the same girls who tried to seduce Odysseus. The sirens you hear are in your own mind responding to the emergency of remembering everything, just as these refugees hold their phones to photograph moments of escaping play. You and they will return from your journeys tired with tales of perils and wonders beyond your strength to describe.
Photo: Alta Ifland