Horses on the fly

Sunny summer morning
driving home with groceries
along the winding backroads
past forests, clearings,
smatterings of houses

at the crossroads
where the tobacco field
gives way to pastures and pond
two horses, trotting
side-by-side

not uncommon, horses
being ridden
along these
country byways

except that these
are unsaddled
unbridled

riderless

in the left lane
headed toward us

moving in sync
at a lively pace
tossing their manes

faces covered
with fly masks

Look! cries my husband
who’s driving
immediately
slowing down
to a near stop

— no one’s with those horses!
And their eyes are covered
—they can’t see!

They can see,
I tell him
even though I know
next to nothing
about fly masks
and equine husbandry

I just know
by the certainty
of their movements
and their canter
that they can see

they are not blindfolded
to be led out of
a burning barn

but they’re here
on the road,
unattended

and drivers
who might be coming
from either direction
are unaware

and people drive
too fast
on these
winding backroads

how, how,
I wonder,
did they get loose

these magnificent beasts
that someone
surely values
and loves

—should we call 911?
—what can they do?
—remember, we did that once

when we saw the mule
strolling up the street
in our neighborhood
—yeah but the farmer
figured it out and got to it
before it got to the highway
—should we get out and…
—and what? Try to hold ’em?
They don’t know us.
We don’t know them.

We don’t know
how to handle horses…

by now, the carefree pair
on its merry jaunt
has passed us

and I can only hope
the owners have realized
and are on the way
or that someone who lives
in the nearby houses
knows to whom they belong

or that these creatures
will use their intuitive
horse sense
to go home

I cannot think
the thousand terrible things
crowding my brain

images of beautiful beings
taking newfound liberty
headlong, headstrong
toward what they cannot know
and others
who do not see

Photo: IMG_2703. thatsavagegirl. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

We didn’t hear any news of something terrible happening to the horses; living in a small community, we would have. I am pretty sure that, a few days later, I saw these same two horses, still fly-masked, safe in the fenced pasture beside that same tobacco field where we saw them on the loose. The initial feeling of awe mixed with horror is hard to shake, however. The image of these two riderless, fly-masked horses is now an indelible one in my mind for potential harm, needless loss and destruction, and feeling utterly helpless in the face of it.

Struck

Yesterday, it happened

at morning arrival
buses and cabs lined up
behind the school
waiting for the ringing of the bell
to release students into the building

staff gathering outside to receive them

while across the narrow street
from the sidewalk
graced by quaint and picturesque houses

a little child crossing

a car coming out of nowhere

not stopping in time

the sound

indefinable thud
like one low drumbeat
or heartbeat

a split-second silence
before collective screaming

then sirens

flashing lights

a knot of people

police and EMTs

a little red jacket in a heap
on the gray asphalt

two loose shoes underneath the car

staff, all the while
attempting to usher
other children inside
but they have seen
they have seen

some saw the little one
clutched in his weeping mother’s arms

some saw him
helped to his feet,
able to stand

some saw EMS get him
into the ambulance

all the long, dark
storm-clouded day
murmurs of
shock
horror
worry

until, just before dismissal,
he came to school with his mom
to show his friends he is okay
his little scatched face, pure sunshine

many of us
overcome with tears
awestruck
by this heroism
on her part
and his

and by the amazing grace
of God

that happened yesterday.


Child shoezendriticCC BY-NC-SA.



Pot

Warning: I am sorry for what you are about to read. I was sorry I lived it, at the time.

When my grandparents moved “back home” to the rural countryside after Granddaddy’s retirement, they began converting a bedroom to a bathroom in the house where they raised three children in the 1940s and 50s. I was around six when this particular event occurred. I couldn’t imagine a house without a bathroom (or a phone, but that comes later). My dad told stories of growing up without a bathroom: everyone took turns bathing in a tub by the heater in the living room, behind a blanket hung from a string. So, up to this point, there was an outhouse in use; I have no memory of that, but…

As I said, apologies.

No

I will not go

But you said you had to

I do I MEAN I DID

but not anymore

It’s not good to hold it

I’m not holding it

although

Granddaddy is,

he sets it there on the floor

white enamel pot

with a pretty red rim

it even has 

a matching lid

We’ll go out, says Grandma

you just call us when you’re done,

so Granddaddy can take it outside
and dump it

No!

I don’t have to go!

We did this years ago

Daddy scowls,

stop crying

it’s not going to hurt you

just go

The pot sits waiting

No

I don’t even want to know

what happens after and

I’d rather bust with No. 2, so no

I
will
not 
go

Chamber pot. Marion Doss. CC BY-SA

The perfectly beautiful, modern bathroom was soon finished at my grandparents’ home, although they occasionally referred to the toilet as “the pot” throughout the remainder of their years. I can’t recall seeing the chamber pot ever again. Thank heaven.

*******

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 16, I am writing around a word beginning with letter p, which could really have gone in a number of directions here

Special thanks to Kim Johnson for the invitation to write a vivid childhood memory this week on Ethical ELA, inspiring this poem.

Masked

This week, Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog invites writing about masks we’ve encountered or worn, literal or figurative, maybe one from long ago…

Winter morning. In my pajamas on the cold kitchen floor, Onyx and Bagel jumping on me with joy. Half-dachshunds, brothers who look nothing alike. Onyx, black and tan (muddled markings; his whole head is tan) is the stronger of the two. A combination of rubber ball and coiled spring, he can jump high enough to give me a kiss even when I’m standing—if I lean over just a little. It’s a feat; at thirteen I’m growing tall. Bagel, long-haired, red piebald, snowy white chest, coloring that reminds me of Lassie, is the happiest dog on Earth except for when it thunders and he runs to hide behind the commode. My sister sits by the wall on top of the vent, her skinny eleven-year-old body drawn into a tight ball, pajama bottoms ballooning and fluttering in the rush of heated air. She doesn’t want to be up, doesn’t want to go to school, is too grumpy for more than a furtive dog-greeting. She’ll play when she’s ready. I embrace the wriggling, wagging, warm bodies, giggling, when I hear footsteps in the hall…Daddy’s familiar stride on the hardwood, in shoes that he polishes every night with a tin and stained cloth until the glossy surfaces reflect like black mirrors…

Suddenly the dogs shoot to the gate (or what we call the gate: a gray particleboard once used under a twin bed mattress when Mama was recovering from back surgery, we slide it back and forth) in the wide kitchen doorway. Barking, ferocious; I have never heard them—or any dog—make such violent noise. They charge the gate, lunging, sounding ready to attack…

There stands Daddy. His face is gone. Instead, there’s huge, opaque goggle-eyes, a distorted nose, pulled and hanging, elephant-like, no sign of human skin or hair; olive-gray visage, that of an ominous specter…

He’s wearing a gas mask.

I had never heard of a strike, picket lines, or unions before. I couldn’t understand why someone would be called a scab for going to work but it did make sense that people who protect said scabs would be scathingly called “Band-Aids”… I knew police were involved, somehow, but the picture in my mind was as muddled as Onyx’s markings, without defining details.

My father wore the same uniform as police but he wasn’t an officer. He was a company security guard. A protector of the gates. Duty-minded. Responsible. The parent who got up with me at night when I had asthma attacks, who would later co-sign my first college loan with the stern admonishment that I’d better pay it back because he couldn’t (I did).

He would die in uniform, but not for many more years, in an attack waged by his own heart, myocardial infarction, three days before retiring, while on his way to work.

The dogs are going crazy. I stare at the mask and the only word that comes to mind is ‘monster’it isn’t right, it isn’t right, that such things should have to exist because of what people do to each other, that Daddy should need this macabre (newly-learned word) apparatus for his own protection—he removes it. He doesn’t mean to scare. “Gracious,” he says to Onyx and Bagel, chuckling, “what fierce watchdogs.” They cease barking and resume wagging the second his human face is restored. They return, pressing their little bodies against me. I can feel them trembling.

Or maybe that’s me, as Daddy goes about preparing for another day.

Lead photo: Insights Unspoken. CC BY-SA

*******

History, as we know, repeats itself in infinite ways. I inadvertently stumbled into this historical gas mask hall of horrors…or maybe it’s a hall of mirrors…

Checking rubber faces for gas masks. State Library of Victoria Collection, circa 1941. CC BY

Soldier and horse. Reeve17408. CC BY

I’ve joined an open community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join us.