Young Couple, Ohio State Fair: Tracking a Story over Seventeen Years from Photograph to Poem to Voice
At the start of this week, on Monday morning, I happened to sit down at my desk at work and opened up Twitter. There, amongst all the posts made by other people also waking up to a Monday morning… I saw a mention of my name.
Which, is not an entirely uncommon thing. Because I’ve learned that there are a lot of other people named Felix Jung out there in the world. But something else caught my eye:
"Young Couple, Ohio State Fair"
By Felix Jung
— joe (@josephdf9423) October 26, 2016
I don’t know this person, but not only did they mention my name… they mentioned a really old poem of mine. Intrigued, I wondered if they were referring to something else. So I did a Google search on the title of the poem.
A few clicks later, I found myself on the listening to an audio story on the PRX website, featuring someone reading my poem! And it sounded fantastic! Take a listen:
I was absolutely floored. Not only was I not expecting anything like this, the sound of someone else reading my poem (and a really well-produced recording at that) took my breath away. Here’s the full text of the poem:
Young Couple, Ohio State Fair
by Felix Jung
Two lovers start to kiss beside a row
of roller coasters, creaky tilt-a-whirls
and games of chance, ignoring all the noise
surrounding them. It’s August, and they taste
the afternoon: her lips made salty from
a burger, his turned sweeter by a piece
of cotton candy. Each one tries to hold
their breath as tightly as they try to hold
the other, fingers slick with sugared grease.
Behind them, metal gears begin to thrum
as nervous children close their eyes and place
their palms along the bars, young girls and boys
sent screaming, spinning, locked inside a world
designed to break, to force the letting go.
What’s crazy to me is that I just happened across this audio now, in 2016. But it was originally recorded two years ago in 2014. The poem itself was written long before that – I want to say around 1998 or 1999.
And even before that, the poem was inspired by a photograph taken by my friend Dipti while covering the Ohio State Fair, in Columbus, OH. Here’s the original image, which she was kind enough to send to me this week:
It’s probably been a decade since I’ve seen this image, and I’m still in awe of it. There’s so much I love about the photo.
The young girl to the left is laughing, looking at her friends kissing. Not only is she directing our attention to the couple, it’s her laughter that accentuates how young they all are. Where she finds humor in the couple’s display, the boy and girl are absolutely lost in their kiss.
Behind them, there is the large sign of a carnival ride titled “DEVASTATOR” – and it hangs in the air like a warning. In some ways, I read it almost as though it were a warning to the girl, a prediction that the relationship will end badly for her.
The kids on the ride, buckled into their seats, is what made me think about the environment. Most every carnival ride plays with gravity and speed, tossing us about to and fro. With the carnival as a backdrop, it made me wonder whether these two would last as a couple, whether they would survive the summer and beyond.
Today, as I’m looking at the image again, I’m noticing something new: the presence of another couple on the bottom right, and another woman looking at them as well. They are older, facing the same direction together, facing the warning of the carnival ride straight-on.
Previously the photograph made me think of early relationships, and how the odds are stacked against the young. I wanted to take the young woman by the arm and tell her “Leave now, get out while you can.”
But now – that older couple gives me a bit of hope. I’m finding myself wondering about the young couple, all those many years ago. Where are they today? Are they still together? Do they still return to the State Fair? Do they still get lost when they kiss one another?
I’m so delighted I found that random Twitter post, that reminded me of this image. It allowed me to go back and trace the arc of this story, from audio back to poem back to photograph back to… the actual couple. To their kiss.
I really like how this story has changed over time, spanning nearly seventeen years since it first started.
The PRX audio was creaed by Audrey Summers, who participated in the WTIP Youth Radio Project. Summers also won national recognition for a piece she created while an intern at WTIP called Love, Long-Distance.
The photograph is by my friend Dipti Vaidya, whom I’ve known since our days attending Westlane Middle School in Indianapolis, IN. You can find her on LinkedIn, and she has tons of great work featured on her personal website.
And finally – if you’re so inclined and liked my writing, I’ve got a few more poems posted online.