I took one look at Deno’s Wonder Wheel on Friday night and told myself this ain’t happening.
I had journeyed all the way out to Coney Island to attend Parachute Literary Arts’ Poem-a-Rama, which included poetry readings on board the famous 15-story thrill ride.
Yes, on board. Participants were cordially invited to get into one of those little cars that looked an awful lot like cages to me and then slowly climb 150 feet into the air while a poet read his or her work.
This was taking art to new heights. (C’mon, you knew that one was coming…)
Now given my, ah…issues with high places, I suspected that this event might present a problem for me, but I promised to do more of those funky things that you can only do in New York and this one really seemed to fit the bill with a vengeance.
It was just five years ago that I had taken my life in my hands and my heart in my mouth to ride Coney’s legendary Cyclone roller coaster. How could I possibly walk away from a chance to take on the Wonder Wheel?
I came awfully close, I must confess. As I looked at this massive machine rolling up through the clouds, I heard this fearful inner voice—the one I give into all too often—telling me to scram, get the hell out of here, take Michael Jackson’s advice and beat it!
You’ve come this far, the voice of defeat said. That’s enough. You’ve got nothing to prove and a hell of a lot to lose—like your life.
But I knew this was a lie. As frightened as I was, I didn’t want to come all this way just so I could stand on the sidelines and watch other people enjoy themselves.
So I popped it into my mouth, said a silent prayer to Saint Martin, and got into a car with the extremely talented poet Brenda Coultas.
Poetic Just Us
Then we started to climb.
I cranked my head around so I could listen to Brenda reading her work and ignore the fact that we were leaving Mother Earth behind.
I could hear all sorts of gears grinding and groaning but I did my best to focus on the words, not my mounting terror.
Brenda’s voice is so soothing and her work is so magical that even when we stopped dead at the top with the biting winds whistling through the cage I didn’t have a panic attack or scream for my mommy.
I’ve been to poetry readings many times in my life, but never did I have the artist all to myself. It was as if she had written these poems just for me.
As we came back toward earth, I grew more animated and talkative. Shucks, that wasn’t bad at all, I thought. It was child’s play.
And then we came down to the bottom—and kept on going.
What the hell? I tried to explain to the ride’s operators that I had done my bit for art, but then we were clanking back up for a second crack at the stratosphere.
Apparently I had signed on for a double feature.
“Why don’t you read something else?” I asked, fighting to keep the desperation out of my voice.
Brenda willingly obliged and this time it seemed the ride was slower, the winds were harsher, and the people down below—for the brief second I looked—were even smaller.
At least the Cyclone was a faster form of fear.
Finally, we clattered back to the ground and I made sure to stand up and wave to the attendants to please get me the hell off this goddamn thing right this very freaking minute.
I thanked Brenda profusely for the personal poetry reading, stepped out of the car, and praised God for not only letting me live through this experience, but for giving me the courage to attempt it in the first place.
I had beaten back my irrational fears, met a talented artist, and finally took a ride on the Wonder Wheel after all these years of looking at the thing from afar.
There’s something rather poetic about that.