The Machine

Back in the Dark Ages,
before the afternoons turned
to curdled milk,
we had a machine
made entirely of wood,
stained to look like iron
& greased with bear fat.
It creaked something wonderful,
like a house full of crickets.
It was easy to operate at
slow speeds, the idea being
to fit one’s body in among
the upright rocking levers
& dance with it, dressed like
a Siberian shaman, spool
for the spirit world’s
high-wire act. But
I made it go too fast
& it flew apart.
I found myself lying
alone on a hillside,
under the speechless stars.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).


  1. I love this. And its moral is one that those of us who mess with such machines can’t hear too often :-)


  2. I have a picture of something distinctly Leonardo-ish. And I’m with Dale on the moral!


  3. For some reason I keep envisioning this as something like a children’s book, lavishly illustrated. Perhaps because it’s just so darn visual. I love it, too.


  4. I get the definite impression you would like one, or at least to try again.

    The bear fat part is especially good, and “creaked something wonderful.” I don’t quite understand afternoons turning to curdled milk, but it sounds good with the rest of the poem, and I figure I ought to be able to imagine it.


  5. Damn fine.

    Makes me want to jump up and down and say, “Can I ride it again, Dave, can I can I?”


  6. Thanks for the kind words.

    Dale – I didn’t think of it as having a moral, but you’re right – i guess it does. If you want it to.

    Dick – Actually, the most direct inspiration was Jean Gimpel’s fine history, The Medieval Machine. Europeans have been obsessed with gears and levers for close to a thousand years, now. The Romans thought such things were only fit for children’s toys.

    MB – I tried and failed to find a good illustration for this post. I guess it didn’t need one, from what you’re saying.

    Beth – You mean the afternoons don’t do that where you are?

    (Oo, a winter wren just sang right outside my door! Love that.)

    Lori – Hmm. Maybe I should start charging…


  7. Dave…what kind of wood did you use? Please make another one. But you could install a speed governor in it so that you would not be able to go so fast. It might work.


  8. I wanna say walnut, but I’m not sure. In the dream, it was already made when i got there.


  9. the wood was rubbed with used motor oil for that dark Teutonic finish…carbon in solution, a slight sheen, water beads up…ask me about this in person.


  10. qrr – I will. The idea of such precise dream interpretation is really quite overwhelming.


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