Perpetual Motion Machine

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This begins with a catalog
              of what haunts me:

              a dream of a robotic arm
braiding my father’s arteries
into some promise bracelet for generations
to come, a triple bypass,
              my daughter screaming
at whatever wakes her in the night,
              the crows in the sycamore,
              the unknown and inside of small and imagined elevators,
              the future, the ….

Monday and I sit for two hours
with a financial advisor
who asks me how I feel
about life insurance. Ambivalent?
We hang ourselves on questions marks.
He mentions a math teacher we know
who is dying of pancreatic cancer,
how he was able to sign up just in time,
before it was too late, he mentions his own heart
attack at 40, the way it changed him,
he mentions his family, my wife,
my daughter, he uses her name:
Would you want that for Winnie
if you weren’t here?

Outside the redbuds can barely contain their relief
at the first of spring—
I think of a blood vessel about to burst, they’re beautiful (the trees),
but the image terrifies me a bit—
how do they hold on for so long?

Last night at dusk I sat with our HVAC man, Conny,
a small light shining from his forehead
like he was some miner of fairy gardens, some prophet.
              Sometimes the discussion of thermodynamics
makes me want to weep, the science
of preservation, energy changing forms, the entropy
of a system slowly breaking apart.

It’s this: everything changes,
but nothing really goes away.
Not even the stars will keep moving forever
(they were born of the cosmic dust,
they return, etc.).

But last night becomes tonight
in my mind, and we move around the condenser
as Conny fixes my mistakes & talks
about how quickly our daughter has grown
since his last visit, about the transfer of heat
and the reversal within the system, about his own wife
and house and nephew
as the sun sets and the crows caw in the tree.
His headlamp shines brighter in the coming dark.

A thousand things are in movement now:
              his voice and shadow,
              the sound of my wife in the shower
with our daughter—only a small wall between us,
              my father on the phone
selling a horse somewhere in Missouri,
              a financial advisor sitting down for another earnest talk
with someone else about the future, about playing offense
and defense when it comes to investing, about his heart
while staring out the window & wondering: How many times?
              A math teacher going home & trembling, or going home
and wrestling again in the foyer with his soon-to-be-married daughter.
              And what is there to say?

Hyacinths bloom along the old fencerow
beside our house. A day is ending, a season begins.
I hear the sound of a wrench turning
and Conny asks me to go inside and turn the air on.
Again the crows caw & I am far away
in something I’ve read about them.
I remember they remember faces,
that they have the mind of a child.

The entropy in the universe tends toward a maximum—
as change splinters change, it’s unlikely
anything like this moment will ever return.
We are alive & will not be; we grow old
under the slow & dying dance of stars
and celestial bodies.

The book of life opens
and closes like a bird’s beak
while our daughter shakes
her naked body in front of the new
and conditioned air: a child
in almost unendurable motion.

Perpetual Motion Machine by Clay Matthews


Photo by David Olimpio.




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About Author

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Clay Matthews has published poetry in journals such as The American Poetry Review, Black Warrior Review, Kenyon Review, Gulf Coast, and elsewhere. His most recent book, Shore, was recently released from Cooper Dillon Books. His other books are Superfecta (Ghost Road Press), RUNOFF (BlazeVox), and Pretty, Rooster (Cooper Dillon). He teaches at Tusculum College in Greeneville, TN, and edits poetry for the Tusculum Review.

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