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Friday, June 13, 2014

Poetry Friday--Roller Coaster

On this day in 1884, the world's first roller coaster, built by LaMarcus Thompson, opened in Coney Island. For five cents a rider could get the thrill of a lifetime on the ride that was called the "Gravity Pleasure Switchback Railway."

Roller coasters are vastly popular even today, as evidenced by the screams coming from Canobie Lake Park* on a summer's night! The Yankee Cannonball Coaster is an old-fashioned wooden coaster that has been at the park for decades. The ride requires that a rider be a minimum of 48" tall, and I'm willing to bet that for years now, children have considered reaching that height, and being able to take a ride on the coaster, as a right of passage.

Here's a poem by Lisel Mueller, which considers a ride on a roller coaster without getting sick, as another right of passage moment:

There is less difficulty--indeed, no logical difficulty at all--in
imagining two portions of the universe, say two galaxies, in which
time goes one way in one galaxy and the opposite way in the
other....Intelligent beings in each galaxy would regard their own
time as "forward" and time in the other galaxy as "backward."
--Martin Gardner, in Scientific American

Somewhere now she takes off the dress I am
putting on. It is evening in the antiworld
where she lives. She is forty-five years away
from her death, the hole which spit her out
into pain, impossible at first, later easing,
going, gone. She has unlearned much by now.
Her skin is firming, her memory sharpens,
her hair has grown glossy. She sees without glasses,
she falls in love easily. Her husband has lost his
shuffle, they laugh together. Their money shrinks,
but their ardor increases. Soon her second child
will be young enough to fight its way into her
body and change its life to monkey to frog to
tadpole to cluster of cells to tiny island to
nothing. She is making a list:
         Things I will need in the past
                 transistor radio
                 Sergeant Pepper
                 acne cream
                 five-year diary with a lock
She is eager, having heard about adolescent love
and the freedom of children. She wants to read
Crime and Punishment and ride on a roller coaster
without getting sick. I think of her as she will
be at fifteen, awkward, too serious. In the
mirror I see she uses her left hand to write,
her other to open a jar. By now our lives should
have crossed. Somewhere sometime we must have
passed one another like going and coming trains,
with both of us looking the other way.

From Alive Together: New and Selected Poems [811.54 MUE].

The Poetry Friday Round-Up is being hosted today by Catherine Johnson. See you there!

*Salem/Windham Appreciation Day, with $15 Admission for residents of these two towns, is Wednesday, July 9, 2014.


  1. What a fascinating poem! Love Lisel Mueller.

  2. Her work is definitely worth a second look!