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.