Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Centaur by May Swenson

The Centaur

The summer that I was ten --
Can it be there was only one 
summer that I was ten?

It must have been a long one then -- 
each day I'd go out to choose 
a fresh horse from my stable

which was a willow grove 
down by the old canal.
I'd go on my two bare feet. 

But when, with my brother's jack-knife, 
I had cut me a long limber horse 
with a good thick knob for a head,

and peeled him slick and clean 
except a few leaves for the tail, 
and cinched my brother's belt

around his head for a rein, 
I'd straddle and canter him fast
up the grass bank to the path,

trot along in the lovely dust 
that talcumed over his hoofs, 
hiding my toes, and turning

his feet to swift half-moons. 
The willow knob with the strap 
jouncing between my thighs

was the pommel and yet the poll 
of my nickering pony's head. 
My head and my neck were mine,

yet they were shaped like a horse. 
My hair flopped to the side 
like the mane of a horse in the wind.

My forelock swung in my eyes, 
my neck arched and I snorted. 
I shied and skittered and reared, 

stopped and raised my knees,
pawed at the ground and quivered. 
My teeth bared as we wheeled

and swished through the dust again. 
I was the horse and the rider, 
and the leather I slapped to his rump 

spanked my own behind.
Doubled, my two hoofs beat 
a gallop along the bank,

the wind twanged in my mane, 
my mouth squared to the bit. 
And yet I sat on my steed 

quiet, negligent riding, 
my toes standing the stirrups,
my thighs hugging his ribs. 

At a walk we drew up to the porch. 
I tethered him to a paling. 
Dismounting, I smoothed my skirt

and entered the dusky hall.
My feet on the clean linoleum 
left ghostly toes in the hall.

Where have you been? said my mother. 
Been riding, I said from the sink, 
and filled me a glass of water.

What's that in your pocket? she said.
Just my knife. It weighted my pocket 
and stretched my dress awry.

Go tie back your hair, said my mother, 
and Why Is your mouth all green?
Rob Roy, he pulled some clover 
as we crossed the field, I told her. 

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