For millennia, the perpetual
motion machine has gone on struggling to be born,
a concept desperate to possess a body.
Captivated, we tailed it as it tried to turn a magic
wheel, watched it as it mimicked an armillary
sphere and pretended to be the circles
of the heavens. Nearly caught,
the perpetual motion machine
kept roaming. It slithered into
a chalice refilling itself, hid between
the blades of a windmill, tried to
outfox time by marrying a clock.
We followed because we wanted to
know if it is ever possible to produce more
than one consumes,
to construct a carnival while getting by on
cake—but the perpetual motion machine
slipped away like a fish, changed its name.
Some of us let it go, while others
went on chasing, most losing life or limb in
pursuit of endless work.
Myth: Sharks will die if they stop swimming.
Fact: Not all sharks will die. Only some sharks.
Some sharks (but not most sharks) need to
maintain forward motion to flood the feathery
filaments of their gills and extract oxygen
from saltwater. The rest of the sharks
—lemon sharks, for instance,
who are more endangered than
dangerous, who are pale yellow
as sand in sunlight though they
night-hunt in the mangrove
shallows of the subtropics,
feeling for the electric pulse
of parrotfish in the dark—
just breathe easier if they keep moving.
The perpetual motion machine is an ominous myth, like
that god with a susurrus for a name, shifting rocks,
trapped in a trance of work, grinding like tides against
the surface of the earth. Or that god, who, standing
on the moon beside a lunar mare, takes his axe to an
osmanthus tree that just keeps healing its wounds.
The perpetual motion machine is a hypothesis
that cannot manifest. It would require a whole other
cosmos, a system where nothing is disturbed.
In our universe, it is impossible. Even the heavenly
bodies—who never seem to tire, who are capable of
constant revolution—they too will eventually stop.
It will take the vastness of interstellar space itself,
blasting rays and heat and dust and wind and waves,
but they will slow, and they will stop. Here on earth,
our days are already 1.78 milliseconds longer than
they were a century ago, and our beloved
moon drifts ever farther away.
Though our lifespans
differ by decades,
I am something
like the sharks,
like the planets, moons, stars
with a body that can
hardly stop moving,
day after day,
my rib cage dips
and bobs for air,
an insatiable bird,
even at night,
wracked and sick
on the edge of rest,
and heart quick
as if I were falling
from a tea olive tree,
and the catch in my breath
is a sign:
like the fish,
like the spheres,
one day I will stop going
through the motions,
when I am veiled
with fine silt
and the ocean in
my glass is dry.