Out of the night that covers me,   
  Black as the Pit from pole to pole,   
I thank whatever gods may be   
  For my unconquerable soul.   

In the fell clutch of circumstance 
  I have not winced nor cried aloud.   
Under the bludgeonings of chance   
  My head is bloody, but unbowed.   

Beyond this place of wrath and tears   
  Looms but the Horror of the shade, 
And yet the menace of the years   
  Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.   

It matters not how strait the gate,   
  How charged with punishments the scroll,   
I am the master of my fate:
  I am the captain of my soul.

This poem is in the public domain.

First they called me “it,” and then, ignorant of how my people
use this word, they mashed up the meager nouns
they had for gender and called me “the goy,” and said
to not be one or the other was to be nothing.
It ate the grass it was shoved in, knelt at salt licks.
It took the barbs and kicks and crushed them into
fur and leather. Oiled and burnished, it made those
halves into one galloping body. Horse and rider.
The centaur endured the school-day, cruel gray rag, filth-
stiffened. The boys and girls who fit so easily in their costumes
looked like stick figures, crude and two dimensional.

Dante already knew, it read later. In The Inferno, in the seventh
circle of hell, centaurs guard the river Phlegethon, one of Hades’
five rivers. Phlegethon: river of fire, river of boiling blood,
which boils forever the souls of those who commit violence
against their neighbors. Centaurs guard the edges, shooting
arrows at any of these sinners who try to move to the shallows.

When sometimes I wish I’d had a boyhood, I remember those
days instead, my four muscled legs. I was seven feet tall then,
riding myself, carrying myself. A centaur is never lonely.

Copyright © 2024 by Miller Oberman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 9, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.