Horses on My Side
Terese Svoboda

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 expresses.

I wait with my soon-to-be-car-lit eyes, with worry a place in my head I keep closed.

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 too.

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 over.

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 windows. Wind! 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 break it.

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 creature.

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.

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Photo detail on main page courtesy of mischiru.

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