Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Horses in the Hills

She’s heard the story before. He told the story
before but he didn’t recall telling her.
She was in Springfield dancing nightly,
teaching with the nuns during the day.
He made it impossible for her to stay
in Amherst. She didn’t like to drive anyway
the hour south after scraping the windows
with what always seemed the first light of day,
twenty to thirty below. She rented a room,
did the town with her friend Barbara Wrega
from Holyoke, Taught Russian novel and culture
to high school kids on their way to college.
He kept on drinking and writing, the writing
kept coming out but not great, he thought it
would if he kept at it, even drinking.
Then one night he saw inside himself the flaw.
He had been looking for someone, something
when he found the church at midnight mass.
He stood between the door from outside
and the one within. The usher said, Please sit.
He said No thank you, stayed to hear words
he had wanted to avoid, but here he was.
It was the story of the man from Samaria
finding a man assaulted by thieves
and left in a ditch to die. His people
were hated by the Samaritan’s people.
But he brought the wounded man back to life,
taking him to a hospital where, Juan assumed,
the man recovered. Irish Cathleen knew the story
better than he could remember the Bible.
He wandered home, expecting to be mugged
all the way. Who would rescue him? he wondered.
In the house he was on the couch, about to sleep
when the horses broke free and ran, and ran,
and ran, he was holding tight to the mane,
he somehow kept his balance on its back,
never even trying to ride like this before
when he was a boy in Horse Heaven Hills
with Thompson , whose father, the chief, knew all
the tricks in catching the wild ones. They ran
their horses after the mustangs fleeing
to keep free. Like the ones inside him wanted
to be, and they keep going until they could go
no more. He heaved and his heart was pounding
with the hooves still there, or so it felt.
They were doing their little dance in circles
to find a place to put their hooves and stop.
Juan had never felt anything like this
and though it would take many years to know
his heart’s limits, it was only after Carlos
walked into some void inside that canyon
where he was never found . . . not until then
did Juan begin to find a way to stop drinking.
He was driving with Paolo and Tricia
down the Northampton street at closing time,
realized he was going the wrong way
to get to Amherst and did a U-turn
crashing into the car in the left lane
and spent the night sleeping in the drunk tank,
next morning in court before the judge
who let the man named Nagle take him out
and tell him if he wanted to drink
that was Juan’s business but Nagle could help
him quit, he’d have to show up at meetings
on Saturdays in the basement downstairs
but he could pay his fine and stay out of jail,
and Juan agreed, pleaded Nolo contendere,
the judge laughing, saying, Ah, the Spiro
Agnew plea! Nixon’s vice president busted
for taking bribes and Nixon himself about
to fall. The day after the bastard resigned,
Irish Cathleen had a new van and drove
Juan home, with Nagle’s okay. Did that mean
Juan was a reformed alcoholic now?
Why not? . . . until the next time. Finally,
he understood what the priest was saying
that had the horses bolting through his body
and clenching his fists as tight as he could
until it was over, and he still breathed.
She was his Samaritan there, where he lay
in the New England countryside dying.

He let her off at her boutique on Geary
and drove to California Street, called
Rocky, who said he was sorry but Belle
wanted him to quit one job or the other.
Someone else would have to run The Saloon.
Juan wanted to get angry, and he was
somewhere down deep, where the horses
were waiting: He did not want them to bolt.

(20 April 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

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