By Nancy Miller Gomez
Featured art by Scott Webb
It was a hot day in Paola, Kansas.
The rides were banging around empty
as we moved through the carnival music and catcalls.
At the Tilt-A-Whirl we were the only ones.
My big sister chose our carriage carefully,
walking a full circle until she stopped.
The ride operator didn’t take his eyes off her
long dark hair and amber eyes, ringed
like the golden interior of a newly felled pine.
She didn’t seem to notice him lingering
as he checked the lap bar and my sister asked
in her sweetest, most innocent—or maybe
not-so-innocent—voice, Can we have a long ride please,
mister? When he sat back down
at the joystick, he made a show
of lighting his smoke and the cage
of his face settled into a smile
I would one day learn to recognize.
Here was a man who knew
his life would never get better,
and those dizzying red teacups began to spin
my sister and me into woozy amusement.
We forgot the man, the heat, our thighs
sticking to the vinyl seats, our bodies glued
together in a centrifugal blur of happiness
beneath a red metal canopy
as we picked up speed and started to laugh,
our heads thrown back, mouths open,
the fabric of my sister’s shirt clinging
to the swinging globes of her breasts
as we went faster, and faster,
though by then we had begun to scream, Stop!
Please stop! Until our voices grew hoarse
beneath the clattering of the pivots and dips,
the air filling with diesel and cigarettes, and the man
at the control stick, waiting for us
to spin toward him again, and each time he cocked his hand as
if sighting prey down the barrel of a gun.
Originally from Kansas, Nancy Miller Gomez now lives in Santa Cruz, California. Her work has appeared in Best American Poetry 2021, Best New Poets 2021, The Adroit Journal, New Ohio Review, Shenandoah, River Styx, The Rumpus, Rattle, Massachusetts Review, American Life in Poetry, Verse Daily and elsewhere. Her chapbook, Punishment, was published in 2018 as part of the Rattle chapbook series. She co-founded an organization that provides poetry workshops to incarcerated women and men. More at: nancymillergomez.com
Originally published in NOR 27.