American Pharoah

Ada Limón - 1976-

Despite the morning’s gray static of rain,
we drive to Churchill Downs at 6 a.m.,
eyes still swollen shut with sleep. I say,
Remember when I used to think everything
was getting better and better? Now, I think
it’s just getting worse and worse. I know it’s not
what I’m supposed to say as we machine our
way through the silent seventy minutes on 64
over pavement still fractured from the winter’s
wreckage. I’m tired. I’ve had vertigo for five
months and on my first day home, he’s shaken
me awake to see this horse, not even race, but
work. He gives me his jacket as we face
the deluge from car to the twin spire turnstiles,
and once deep in the fern-green grandstands, I see
the crowd. A few hundred maybe, black umbrellas,
cameras, and notepads, wet-winged eager early birds
come to see this Kentucky-bred bay colt with his
chewed-off tail train to end the almost 40-year
American Triple Crown drought. A man next to us,
some horseracing heavy, ticks off a list of reasons
why this horse—his speed-laden pedigree, muscle
and bone recovery, et cetera, et cetera—could never
win the grueling mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes.
Then, the horse with his misspelled name comes out,
first just casually cantering with his lead horse,
and next, a brief break in the storm, and he’s racing
against no one but himself and the official clocker,
monstrously fast and head down so we can see
that faded star flash on his forehead like this
is real gladness. As the horse eases up and we
close our mouths to swallow, the heavy next to us
folds his arms, says what I want to say too: I take it all back.

More by Ada Limón

Sharks in the Rivers

We'll say unbelievable things 
to each other in the early morning— 
  
our blue coming up from our roots, 
our water rising in our extraordinary limbs. 
  
All night I dreamt of bonfires and burn piles 
and ghosts of men, and spirits 
behind those birds of flame. 
  
I cannot tell anymore when a door opens or closes, 
I can only hear the frame saying, Walk through. 
  
It is a short walkway— 
into another bedroom. 
  
Consider the handle. Consider the key. 
  
I say to a friend, how scared I am of sharks. 
  
How I thought I saw them in the creek 
across from my street. 
  
I once watched for them, holding a bundle 
of rattlesnake grass in my hand, 
shaking like a weak-leaf girl. 
  
She sends me an article from a recent National Geographic that says, 
  
Sharks bite fewer people each year than 
New Yorkers do, according to Health Department records. 
  
Then she sends me on my way. Into the City of Sharks. 
  
Through another doorway, I walk to the East River saying, 
  
Sharks are people too. 
Sharks are people too. 
Sharks are people too. 
  
I write all the things I need on the bottom 
of my tennis shoes. I say, Let's walk together. 
  
The sun behind me is like a fire. 
Tiny flames in the river's ripples. 
  
I say something to God, but he's not a living thing, 
so I say it to the river, I say, 
  
I want to walk through this doorway 
But without all those ghosts on the edge, 
I want them to stay here. 
I want them to go on without me. 
  
I want them to burn in the water.

Roadside Attractions with the Dogs of America

It's a day when all the dogs of all
the borrowed houses are angel footing
down the hard hardwood of middle-America's
newly loaned-up renovated kitchen floors,
and the world's nicest pie I know
is somewhere waiting for the right
time to offer itself to the wayward
and the word-weary. How come the road
goes coast to coast and never just
dumps us in the water, clean and
come clean, like a fish slipped out
of the national net of "longing for joy."
How come it doesn't? Once, on a road trip
through the country, a waitress walked
in the train's diner car and swished
her non-aproned end and said,
"Hot stuff and food too." My family
still says it, when the food is hot,
and the mood is good inside the open windows.
I'd like to wear an apron for you
and come over with non-church sanctioned
knee-highs and the prettiest pie of birds
and ocean water and grief. I'd like
to be younger when I do this, like the country
before Mr. Meriwether rowed the river
and then let the country fill him up
till it killed him hard by his own hand.
I'd like to be that dog they took with them,
large and dark and silent and un-blamable.
Or I'd like to be Emily Dickinson's dog, Carlo,
and go on loving the rare un-loveable puzzle
of woman and human and mind. But, I bet I'm more
the house beagle and the howl and the obedient
eyes of everyone wanting to make their own kind
of America, but still be America, too. The road
is long and all the dogs don't care too much about
roadside concrete history and postcards of state
treasures, they just want their head out the window,
and the speeding air to make them feel faster
and younger, and newer than all the dogs
that went before them, they want to be your only dog,
your best-loved dog, for this good dog of today
to be the only beast that matters.

The Conditional

Say tomorrow doesn't come.
Say the moon becomes an icy pit.
Say the sweet-gum tree is petrified.
Say the sun's a foul black tire fire.
Say the owl's eyes are pinpricks.
Say the raccoon's a hot tar stain.
Say the shirt's plastic ditch-litter.
Say the kitchen's a cow's corpse.
Say we never get to see it: bright
future, stuck like a bum star, never
coming close, never dazzling.
Say we never meet her. Never him.
Say we spend our last moments staring
at each other, hands knotted together,
clutching the dog, watching the sky burn.
Say, It doesn't matter. Say, That would be
enough. Say you'd still want this: us alive,
right here, feeling lucky.