A Horse Named Never

Jennifer Chang
At the stables, each stall was labeled with a name.
 
Biscuit stood aloof—I faced always, invariably, his clockwork tail.
 
Crab knew the salt lick too well.
 
Trapezoid mastered stillness: a midnight mare, she was sternest and tallest, her chest stretched against the edges of her stall.
 
I was not afraid of Never, the chestnut gelding, so rode his iron haunches as far as Panther Gap.
 
Never and I lived in Virginia then.
 
We could neither flee or be kept.
 
Seldom did I reach the little mountain without him, the easy crests making valleys of indifferent grasses.
 
What was that low sound I heard, alone with Never?
 
A lone horse, a lodestar, a habit of fear.
 
We think of a horse less as the history of one man and his sorrows than as the history of a whole evil time.
 
I fed him odd lettuce, abundant bitterness.
 
Who wore the bit and harness, who was the ready steed.
 
Or: I think there be six Nevers in the field.
 
He took the carrot, words by own reckoning, an account of creeks and oyster catchers.
 
I named my account “Notes on the State of Virginia.”
 
It was bred for show and not to race.
 
Never, I cried, Never.
 
Were I more horse than rider, I would better understand the beast I am.
 
Our hoof-house rested at the foot of the mountain, on which rested another house more brazen than statuary.
 
Let it be known: I first mistook gelding for gilding.
 
I am the fool that has faith in Never.
 
Somewhere, a gold door burdened with apology refuses all mint from the yard.

 

More by Jennifer Chang

Pastoral

Something in the field is
working away. Root-noise.
Twig-noise. Plant
of weak chlorophyll, no
name for it. Something
in the field has mastered
distance by living too close
to fences. Yellow fruit, has it
pit or seeds? Stalk of wither. Grass-
noise fighting weed-noise. Dirt
and chant. Something in the
field. Coreopsis. I did not mean
to say that. Yellow petal, has it
wither-gift? Has it gorgeous
rash? Leaf-loss and worried 
sprout, its bursting art. Some-
thing in the. Field fallowed and
cicada. I did not mean to
say. Has it roar and bloom?
Has it road to follow? A thistle
prick, fraught burrs, such
easy attachment. Stem-
and stamen-noise. Can I lime-
flower? Can I chamomile?
Something in the field cannot.

The Skin's Broken Aria

I cross the street
and my skin falls off. Who walks
to an abandoned lake? Who
abandons lakes? I ask questions
to evade personal statements. When you are
skinless, you cannot bear to be
more vulnerable. With skin, I
would say I am in love with
Love as in that old-time song
crooners like to croon. With skin,
I would wear elbow-length opera gloves
of pearly satin. Protect my skin.
Hide it. There is no skin
like my skin. How I miss it —
I miss it as I would a knitted bonnet, a
pewter teaspoon to stir sugar into hot water.
My great passion was my skin. The lover
I loved. They don’t
sell skin at Wal-Mart. And really, how
could I, humanely, buy it? Would you ever
give me your skin? This is a terrible world
we live in. There are mistakes and
batteries littering a junk drawer,
where Mother would hide my house keys and Father
would store his eyeballs. Do you know
Puccini? Do you spill silk
at the gorgeous onslaught of love, of Pinkerton’s
lurking return? Butterfly had no skin either
but you could not tell from the outer left
balcony. As I lay in a bed
of my dead skin, I dream of Butterfly
and what she could have done instead:
run away to this little room
to lose her aching voice, to listen
to the hourly ringing of bells
that is really the souring birdsong
of a child, skinned and
laughing, a child that will never be hers.

Sonogram

Dark matter, are you 
sparkless 

for lack of knowing
better? The room 

you've spun is distant
and indivisible—

a flickering lapsarian,
you satisfy no mute

progress but 
collapse, spiral, winded

by unwinding. Dear 
enigma kid, dear psychic

soft spot, I write you
from under eight spastic 

lights, each falser than stars, 
to promise I'll will 

the darkness out of you 
or I'll will myself 

to trying. Twisted 
mister, my incipient

sir, you be in charge 
of the what-if, I'll master why.