Illusions of Perpetual Motion


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,


or millennia,

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,

after work,



wracked and sick


on the edge of rest,

I twitch,


muscles clenched

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.

What are you looking for?