the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night




Ros Barber

The Old Machinery

Though it's been years, now, since you shut me down,
the old machinery ticks on in its place
behind the boarded windows of a town
you wouldn't move to. Though it rusts and chafes,
the cogs keep turning blindly, unmaintained,
regardless of all usefulness and waste:
and yet you never come here when it rains.
You'll never come, you'll never come again.

What drives the old machinery? Not you.
And not my will, for if I had my way
the engine would be choked for lack of fuel,
the moulds that press out nothing would decay,
the gears would seize, the levers split to grain.
Instead it grinds on, stupidly, to say
and yet you never come here when it rains.
You'll never come, you'll never come again.



They've stuck me here until they find a cure.
I was being a nuisance. I volunteered myself.
Before this timely freeze I thought too fast
for comfort: theirs, not mine. But now, demure
on ice, slowed to my essence, I can lure
them into loving me. Any fool can pass
and cope: the anti-condensation glass
keeps me apart and keeps the process pure.

As minutes lengthen, generations shrink;
the time-lapse of my permafrosted brain
makes visitors blur like photons. Then again,
I can't eclipse the fact that I see and think;
the crowds build up as I prepare to blink.
For them it's an event, a mummer's play
as dragging slow as the phases of the grained
moon dissolving its glowing orbit into ink.

I'm shocked; I'm dull. It takes six hours to form
a single thought. That's just the way they like
their girls. Dyslexic neurones strain to write
themselves in lines but wind up mute, or torn.
A gradual reversion to the norm.
Sluggish, eternally young and none too bright,
I hold myself, and in my bleaker nights
still dream of someone who could keep me warm.

I loved this man. He settled his armchair in
and stayed for seconds blossoming a beard,
his features idling in a different gear.
And minutes later, I watched his death begin:
the rapid grief as he blanched and sagged — the skin
lick-dripping off his bones — then disappeared.
Nobody else for fifteen hundred years.
I might have problems getting over him.

I'm slowing down. Perhaps they're speeding up:
it's hard to tell. Did they tamper with the machine?
But everything's a matter of degree.
And sliding down the Kelvin Scale is such
ambitious stuff. The sheer mathematical cut
of absolute zero always appealed to me.
My heart is thumping once per century.
Perhaps it will stop. It doesn't matter much.



The card begins to turn. Now hold it there.
Did we, like magicians, palm it to the top?
Will lines of thought, vibrating through the air,
decide the outcome for the penny's drop?

Our electrons may be here, and somewhere else,
collapsing to one point upon a wish.
Through pure intention, the patient heals herself,
and DNA unwinds in a Petri dish.

For weeks when love was feeding us, we'd meet
unplanned, and yet as if attached by strings.
I'd no sooner think of you, and in the street
you'd appear as if desire could fashion things.

My faith in us was forged by chance's vow:
mutual longing sucked us to that space.
I never see you now. This hollow town
has swallowed every atom of your face —

the proof that we have let each other go,
our particles have untwined from their dance
of entanglement. Yet I don't want to know
about your certainties. Let's call it chance.



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