Larry Levis (1946 - 1996 / California / United States)
Elegy With A Bridle In Its Hand
One was a bay cowhorse from Piedra & the other was a washed out palomino
And both stood at the rail of the corral & both went on aging
In each effortless tail swish, the flies rising, then congregating again
Around their eyes & muzzles & withers.
Their front teeth were by now as yellow as antique piano keys & slanted to the angle
Of shingles on the maze of sheds & barn around them; their puckered
Chins were round & black as frostbitten oranges hanging unpicked from the limbs
Of trees all through winter like a comment of winter itself on everything
That led to it & found gradually the way out again.
In the slowness of time. Black time to white, & rind to blossom.
Deity is in the details & we are details among other details & we long to be
Teased out of ourselves. And become all of them.
The bay had worms once & had acquired the habit of drinking orange soda
From an uptilted bottle & nibbling cookies from the flat of a hand, & like to do
Nothing else now, & the palomino liked to do nothing but gaze off
At traffic going past on the road beyond vineyards & it would follow each car
With a slight turning of its neck, back & forth, as if it were a thing
Of great interest to him.
If I rode them, the palomino would stumble & wheeze when it broke
Into a trot & would relapse into a walk after a second or two & then stop
Completely & without cause; the bay would keep going though it creaked
Underneath me like a rocking chair of dry, frail wood, & when I knew it could no longer
Continue but did so anyway, or when the palomino would stop & then take
Only a step or two when I nudged it forward again, I would slip off either one of them,
Riding bareback, & walk them slowly back, letting them pause when they wanted to.
At dawn in winter sometimes there would be a pane of black ice covering
The surface of the water trough & they would nudge it with their noses or muzzles,
And stare at it as if they were capable of wonder or bewilderment.
They were worthless. They were the motionless dusk & the motionless
Moonlight, & in the moonlight they were other worlds. Worlds uninhabited
And without visitors. Worlds that would cock an ear a moment
When the migrant workers come back at night to the sheds they were housed in
And turn a radio on, but only for a moment before going back to whatever
Wordless & tuneless preoccupation involved them.
The palomino was called Misfit & the bay was named Querido Flacco,
And the names of some of the other shapes had been Rockabye
And Ojo Pendejo & Cue Ball & Back Door Peter & Frenchfry & Sandman
And Rolling Ghost & Anastasia.
Death would come for both of them with its bridle of clear water in hand
And they would not look up from grazing on some patch of dry grass or even
Acknowledge it much; & for a while I began to think that the world
Rested on a limitless ossuary of horses where their bones & skulls stretched
And fused until only the skeleton of one enormous horse underlay
The smoke of cities & the cold branches of trees & the distant
Whine of traffic on the interstate.
If I & by implication therefore anyone looked at them long enough at dusk
Or in moonlight he would know the idea of heaven & of life everlasting
Was so much blown straw or momentary confetti
At the unhappy wedding of a sister.
Heaven was neither the light nor was it the air, & if it took a physical form
It was splintered lumber no one could build anything with.
Heaven was a weight behind the eyes & one would have to stare right through it
Until he saw the air itself, just air, the clarity that took the shackles from his eyes
And the taste of the bit from his mouth & knocked the rider off his back
So he could walk for once in his life.
Or just stand there for a moment before he became something else, some
Flyspeck on the wall of a passing & uninteruptible history whose sounds claimed
To be a cheering from bleachers but were actually no more than the noise
Of cars entering the mouths of a tunnel.
And in the years that followed he would watch them in the backstretch or the far turn
At Santa Anita or Del Mar. Watch the way they made it all seem effortless,
Watch the way they were explosive & untiring.
And then watch the sun fail him again & slip from the world, & watch
The stands slowly empty. As if all moments came back to this one, inexplicably
To this one out of all he might have chosen-Heaven with ashes in its hair
And filling what were once its eyes-this one with its torn tickets
Littering the aisles & the soft racket the wind made. This one. Which was his.
And if the voice of a broken king were to come in the dusk & whisper
To the world, that grandstand with its thousands of empty seats,
Who among the numberless you have become desires this moment
Which comprehends nothing more than loss & fragility & the fleeing of flesh?
He would have to look up at the quickening dark & say: Me. I do. It's mine.
Comments about this poem (Elegy With A Bridle In Its Hand by Larry Levis )
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