When it Stops

Another Kafkaesque parable…

Then the engine stops. No one notes the labored motions or syncopated rotations of its wheels and belts. No one smells smoke. We’ve grown so accustomed to machinery we’ve stopped hearing it. And when it seizes, we have to look… even though everything arises from the desire not to look.

No one here knows how to fix the engine because its makers are lost. They wandered from the job long ago and, though they may still be hidden among pipes and flaming minarets, looking for them will spend too much time. We will call out to them—cast their names like seeds into the air—but they are out of earshot and we all sense calling will do no good.

When the engine was new, some people reveled in watching it. Miracles traveled inside its motion, purpose we couldn’t see but believed. Like any machine, it ran in cycles, and, at first, some waited and watched for its return. They would let us know that it was the same engine following the same choreography we set, though we added to its parts all along. We can’t shut it down for repair or tinker while it moves, so we add to it instead. We used to stand beside it, pausing to take a deep breath and congratulate ourselves. But when we added parts to assure the engine could supplement itself, we lost the habit of looking at all.

Someone was supposed to watch. At first we took turns according to elaborate tables of duties, but the tables taxed our attention and, with such an autonomous machine, the time seemed so sterile, so fruitless, so superfluous. We learned to expect someone else to do the watching and then we learned not to watch.

And isn’t everyone too busy? We can’t be expected to follow the intermeshing teeth of its cogs. What is there to see in its incremental gestures, its mechanical loops, its pendulum swings and plodding moves? We prefer a more interesting world, one more like the wild and open time before the engine. Freedom, after all, is the reason we built the engine in the first place, so it could do what we didn’t care to.

For some time now, a handful of people we called alarmists have been shouting trouble, carping we don’t know what the engine does anymore or crying when another one of its pumps palsies and stops. “Those drips are toxic,” they said, and “something smells wrong.” But what they wanted—to start again—was well beyond them or anyone else. Though we’ve developed so many new arts, repair has slipped into a fog of wet smoke, a lost practice of memory.

Our brains aren’t right for the task either. Connections loosen, and our sight swims in the soupy atmosphere engulfing us. No inhalation seems deep enough. No fuel sufficient to the effort required. The world is going black, and the truth explodes in a final revelation.

This machine makes air.

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Filed under Allegory, Doubt, Essays, Experiments, Jeremiads, Modern Life, Parables, Prose Poems, Sturm und Drang, Thoughts, Worry

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