Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Poem in Parts by Jacqueline Markowski

The Strength of Horses
Part I

….She had horses who waited for destruction.
She had horses who waited for resurrection….
She had horses who got down on their knees for any savior.
She had horses who thought their high price had saved them.
She had horses who tried to save her, who climbed in her bed at night and prayed as they raped her.
She had some horses.
She had some horses she loved.
She had some horses she hated.
These were the same horses.
--Joy Harjo (She Had Some Horses)
That year in biology I was learning
frogs, dissecting their life. Learning
about their mating, amplexus. I
equated this with sex; instinctual, natural,
the female knowing her duty, suppressing
the screams. Nothing taken, nothing
broken. I gave you what had already been
taken. I wished it had been you who had
reached that place first. My consolation:
I wasn’t terrified with you, just nervous,
but you were gentle, concerned.
That was two decades ago—I can still remember
saying goodbye to your cerulean
eyes, so clear my reflection reached out
to me from somewhere deep within
your compassion, your invisible embrace.
I never trusted what shown back at me;
I was too flawed—holding onto
ancient tragedy. Tangled in my memories
of that first day, my awkwardness stands taller
than pain, brighter than the scabs I’ve picked
for years. Your gentle hands guiding me, your
long artist fingers against my pale vernal skin.
I held on to the barbed wire that circled
your long, thin arm half expecting to pull back
a sliced open thumb, a fresh cut. Instead I found
I had steadied myself. I didn’t feel the fear
I had anticipated, had reasoned would be
worth it. My only worry was that
after the epochal moment, I would begin
counting the hours, minutes, memories until I had to
say it, the inevitable goodbye that would punctuate
our twice a month visits. In two weeks
we would have our second encounter. Your bus came
in at 11:45. It was just after midnight
at the reservoir, where all the punk kids came
to drink cheap wine. It was quiet and still,
even the dirt road we’d taken
from the bus station was desolate. You covered me
with your long, lean body. You asked if I was
scared. I said no. I hadn’t yet realized
I had always been scared, had spent my childhood
running, chasing after the dangling pair of scissors.

The Strength of Horses
Part II

…She had horses who danced in their mothers' arms.
She had horses who thought they were the sun and their bodies shone and burned like stars.
She had horses who waltzed nightly on the moon.
She had horses who were much too shy, and kept quiet in stalls of their own making….

--Joy Harjo (She Had Some Horses)

Two days later my mother drove us to the bus
station. She liked you, despite the tattoos.
She sat silently in the car, watching through
the windshield as I held onto you, begging
the God I didn’t believe in to nail us
down into that moment. She held me
while I cried watching the bus pull away
from the curb. She made friends with me
on the drive home. I began to trust
her, told her I thought I might love
you. She laughed until she saw
my face. With a softened voice she told me
that she was jaded, that love might still be real
for a someone like me, someone
at my age. Those words stung,
showed my naiveté. I was naked; I knew
I better get used to goodbyes. So I swam
into the murky, dislodged portion
of my sixteenth year. The snake slithered
to the salty surface: for the first time
my mania showed itself in plain sight.
I was clouded and shrouded and getting used
to goodbyes. I let you go. If I hurt
you, you didn’t show me—to this day
I am grateful. Your empathy covered me
like a stained blanket I threw away
years ago, like a dress I had outgrown.
I sought eyes without reflection,
landing quickly in the arms of the first of many
vampires who fed off me, off the ego-less,
needy mass I was. I hardly remember any of them,
they had no distinction,
no artistic tendencies,
just rusty barbed wire, the kind that would
slice you, cut open your flesh when you tried
to steady yourself. No cause
and even less effect on anything
but circumstance. Those memories
are different, empty. They do not pull
me back. They do not echo.

The Strength of Horses
Part III
…She had horses who were maps drawn of blood.
She had horses who were skins of ocean water.
She had horses who were the blue air of sky.
She had horses who were fur and teeth.
She had horses who were clay and would break.
She had horses who were splintered red cliff…. 
…She had horses who laughed too much.
She had horses who threw rocks at glass houses.
She had horses who licked razor blades….
--Joy Harjo (She Had Some Horses)
One day you called, five years had passed—
a lifetime … we were still young. I was still
fucked up, still avoiding provocation. We met
for a drink. When you spoke, you became
irritated when I wouldn’t make eye contact.
I was still afraid of my reflection, certain I’d see a monster
as you tried to know me, to show me. You knew
I was in there. But when I felt you prying
off the mask I had glued on tight I lashed out,
accidentally showed you the pieces of me I reserved
for solitude. Finally we sat in your grandmother’s driveway,
my small car idling in the dark night. I tried
to mirror your honesty. My thoughts swirling,
confusing what was true with what I’d wished
was true; I let rain down years of tears.
If only I had said less, thought more,
been cognizant of who I was
really angry with. Maybe then I
would have heard what you were
saying. Self-absorbed, I spent the exchange
formulating my attack. I can’t remember
what you told me of your life—
where your education was taking you,
where you wanted to go. All I
heard was the performance of a false-self
and critical conjecture. From there I abandoned
reason, didn’t let myself acknowledge this:
You were the horse I dismounted too early,
there was a blanket underneath the saddle.

The Strength of Horses
Part IV
….She had horses who called themselves, "horse."
She had horses who called themselves, "spirit." and kept their voices secret and to themselves.

She had horses who had no names.
She had horses who had books of names….
….She had some horses she loved.
She had some horses she hated.
These were the same horses….
--Joy Harjo (She Had Some Horses)
I’ve thought about you every year
on Groundhog Day, wondering if
I’d ever see your shadow.
This year I looked for you.
This year I found you.
This year holds six more weeks of spring.
I take comfort— your shadow is still
yours. We’ve grown up, both had children
and our fair share of life experience. Your home
is a blue ocean away. But your shadow is with me,
I carry it like a blanket. I keep it in a jewelry box
next to my children’s teeth. I reference it like
an anthology.
Finally I recognize the girl
in the reflection. She is also a horse
who was set free too soon; but she has
found her own shadow, it comforts her
like a blanket, it tells her that
love doesn’t have to hurt, that
a cracked little girl can be glued back
together, that horses are beautiful

Jacqueline Markowski is a writer of poetry and short stories. She lives in Charlotte, NC where she divides her time between writing and being a homeschooling mother. Her poetry has appeared in Chronogram Magazine, Cochlea/The Neovictorian and Permafrost Literary Journal. She was awarded first place in poetry during the 2006 Sandhills Writers Conference. She is currently working on a compilation of short stories but who’s she kidding- she’ll never finish.

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