The Two Horses (A Memory)
You said you had lunch in Pittsfield, was it on North Street?
That reminds me of when we lived on the farm.
It must be eighty years ago.
We went to a one-room schoolhouse, didn’t you drive past it once?
Each row was a different grade.
I sat in the first seat of the first row.
The teacher’s name was Miss Brown.
She was so pretty.
I wonder if she’s still alive.
The day before we left the farm our cat disappeared.
We couldn’t find her anywhere.
I was sad for weeks.
Three months later she showed up at our new house in Pittsfield.
I can’t think of the number now.
My sister was in New York.
She didn’t like the people she was living with so she’d visit us.
She fell in love with the young man who lived next door.
Your uncle Maurice.
They got married and moved to Cleveland.
They’re both gone now, aren’t they?
You know, I can’t picture her.
A few years later we moved to New York.
This just jumped into my mind: I must have been three years old.
We were still in Russia.
A small town, but famous for its yeshiva.
My oldest brother—Joe—took our horses down to the river.
They were the two best horses in the town.
My father had a phaeton.
A beautiful old buggy.
He was like a taxi driver, he took people to Minsk.
That day he was at the station.
The passenger station, waiting for customers.
My brother was still just a kid.
He must have been washing the horses in the river.
I can remember—it was a hot day.
Maybe he was giving them a drink.
And while I was watching the reins got caught around a pole in the river.
The horses kept twisting the reins around that pole.
It was slippery, the reins kept sliding down under the water and they were pulling the horses down with them.
I ran into town and got my father who came running back with a knife in his teeth.
He jumped into the river with all his clothes on.
He took the knife and sawed away at the reins until he finally cut through.
He saved the horses.
I haven’t thought about this in a thousand years.
It’s like a dream: you get up it’s forgotten.
Then it all comes back.
Didn’t I ever tell you?
Look at me, I’m starting to cry.
What’s there to cry about?
Such an old, old memory, why should it make me cry?
This poem was first published in Slate (1997) and was reprinted in Cairo Traffic (University of Chicago Press, 2000) and Who’s on First? New and Selected Poems (University of Chicago Press, 2021).