Moving the Obelisk


The obelisk is of unimaginable size and weight. To stand it up again, so that it towers over everything below, would be the greatest engineering feat of the age. Aeons ago it stood in the sands before a heathen temple. Many centuries later it was transported to our city from across the seas. No one now alive can explain how it was brought here.
A thousand years ago, in one of our central squares, it witnessed martyrdoms and executions. In its shadow, great games were held, with exotic beasts and heroic gladiators. Its four sides are carved with inscriptions. Evidently these tell of life in a time long before our own, but no one today can read or decipher such markings.
At its apex there was a chamber that might have contained relics. Some say it preserved the ashes of a great conqueror. Others believe it held the bones of a crucified rebel. But troubled times came, and the barbarians swept through our lands. The obelisk toppled over, and for a thousand years it lay in an abandoned field. During all that time it was ignored. Now the leaders have announced that it will be moved, and erected in a prominent place.
All of the obelisks in the city will be reconfigured. They were desecrated many years ago, and they still lie hidden by vines and debris.  They too will be resurrected and moved to new locations. All will be aligned with the tallest obelisk. Thus rearranged they will reveal a new perspective and a new direction for our people.
But this obelisk is much too ponderous to be lifted by ordinary means. Therefore the best minds of the age have been summoned. They have studied the texts of the ancient thinkers. They have proposed new theories and drawn up plans. They have constructed models with winches and pulleys. And they have concluded that it would not be possible to move the obelisk.
Not one among them believes that this can be accomplished. The obelisk is simply too massive and too ponderous. The learned advisors have decided that it cannot be moved or placed upright again. Reluctantly, our leaders have accepted these findings. The obelisk is not going to be moved after all. It will remain where it fell a thousand years ago.
The people are disappointed. They had been promised a new perspective, but there will be no such reorientation. The obelisk will be left in an empty field. It will be neglected, and in a few years it will be forgotten.  Those who pass by will be unable to remember that it ever existed.
Without a central obelisk, there would be no point in resurrecting the smaller obelisks. Some will be broken up and their fragments incorporated in the foundations of new structures. Others will be ground down and converted into cement. Any primitive artifacts unearthed will be displayed in our museums. But the very notion of obelisks will pass from living memory.
Already, some citizens are asking why we should have concerned ourselves with obelisks in the first place. But without question our leaders know what is best. New announcements may be expected any day now.
First published in Bohème Magazine, December 2005.

Jared Carter’s forthcoming book of poems is A Dance in the Street, available in the fall of 2012 from Wind Publications in Kentucky. Wind published his previous collection, Cross this Bridge at a Walk, in 2006. His work has appeared in Poetry, The New Yorker, TriQuarterly, Iowa Review, Hudson Review The Dark Horse, Prairie Schooner, and Kenyon Review. Addi­tional poems and sto­ries may be found on his web site at