Horses on My Side
The light is bad. Fields flee on either side of the car in grey-brown,
a beaten color. Acceleration exists at the ball of his foot past each
of these fields but he leaves off pressing so hard, preferring the
grey-brown to the blur. Soon-moon, a kind of too-close rhyme is how the
twilight and the grey highway is going along with the fields, in an on
and on that can only mean, in the end, Get off.
He doesn't speed up at all.
I'm waiting. I see him in the slow-motion hologram of familiarity,
driving. He knows this and still he takes his time. He's coming, a lot
in the –ing.
I wait under the streetlight of the moon, and the streetlight, and its
corner with pavement I'm standing on, with no bus shelter seat to tuck
into. Sure isn't where I wait. I wait at the light as if he were
arriving on a star from a long time ago, or in the dark of a bowling
ball skipping lanes.
The car is another thing. It flickers its dials, expressing car
dis-ease, unaccompanied by cure of any kind. Chug says our mode of
transport, chug, chug. Yes, there are graceful turns, stops that seem
crisp—but a car like this doesn't drive, it chugs and flickers, it
I wait with my soon-to-be-car-lit eyes, with worry a place in my head I
To stay cheerful, I'll bet the kids in the coming car count. We always
did, brothers and sisters, backseat and front. Horses on my side
was how we counted. But those pastoral exemplars now have duties other
than highway, like glue factory or pageant parade or circling a two
million-dollar TV wagon train. Besides, this isn't Virginia they're
counting or the livestock-infested West. Twenty points for palominos,
they exclaim but the most horses of any color now are six.
Still they will holler How many?
if there's any at all. Numbers drive them, not the godforsaken
car—without horses, they tot up all kinds of states and
statistics, exclaiming over each RI or HI plate, the shout itself
keeping the grey of their passing at bay.
The kids will count even plastic gas station mounts, they will count
billboards of horses with grins.
Or they roll down the windows. Wind! they shout, as if it's a number
I can almost hear them, then I do.
I hold my head down for the getting in part and the plunge into the
seat, and the car heaves out of the bad light with me inside it, among
seatbelt flaps and the counting kids. Am I counted? To them, I'm a
state plate already blurring in the distance, my entry's so suddenly
My husband ahems his greeting but more makes a noise at the new cold of
my entrance, which combines with the cold of the soon fully downed
the kids shout again and again, all glee. Cozying closer is not a
simple operation for a driver, other than a commanding Close It.
At stake is the car, an unsure vehicle for everyone together, a gamble
within a driver's reach.
Brakes R us.
Of course someone answers I'm hungry to his Close It,
instead of Sorry.
What he does get is kissed. The one in back puckers up following her
lot of electrical window up and down. This kiss doesn't lessen the
anamorphic elsewhere travel is sucking us all into, it's just the smack
in time that binds: he still exists. I kiss him good next and he almost
misses the turn, the dark sign overhead, the bridge with the highway
turning us off. But no, we careen into the sure dark all pecked and
smiling, and both kids declare their bliss, bless the goofitis of the
fat moon that brightens up even the hooves of all the horses they say
they've missed, those bending to crop at a night light, dipping their
faces into exhaust-covered feed or leaning on a fence as if they could
I tell them my sister once spotted a giraffe in a horse trailer and we
couldn't award her enough points.
A hundred points, shrieks the younger.
They say they have seen giraffes, just nobody else was watching. It's
your fault, your glasses, they say, pointing and pointing. I laugh, and
we chug past the hillsides, into the towns we can't stop at because
time and its horses don't count anymore, in such dark.
I start with the bottles. How many bottles on the wall? I sing and they
sing and we watch out the front and the sides and keep counting while
the dark swallows us, the deep intestinal dark of some silent ruminant
Terese Svoboda's fifth book of poetry, Weapons Grade, is just out. Trailer Girl and Other Stories is being reprinted in paper by the U. Nebraska Press.
To link to this story directly: http://wigleaf.com/200911horses.htm
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