Why I Am Obsessed with Horses

Because when I saw a horse
cross a river
and named it Ghost Rubble
it said No my name is 1935
because it also spoke in tongues
as it crossed the black tongue
of the water
because it still arcs through me
with its zodiac
of shrapnel-bright stars
because the river’s teeth
still gnash
against its flank
and its eyes
still have the luster
of black china
glowing black-bright
in the glass hutch of memory
because a horse’s skull
is a ditch of wildflowers
because a horse’s skull
is a box of numbers
a slop bucket
resting upside down
under barn eaves
wind in an empty stockyard
orange clay that breaks
shovel handles with a shrug
because a horse is the underwriter
of all motion
because a horse is the first
and last item
on every list
of every season
and because that night the air
smelled green as copper
and lath dust
and that night as it scrambled
up the bank and stamped past me
it said Unlike you
I am the source of all echoes.

Opening Gambit

Two decommissioned highways cross
and continue toward their borders
with the casual certainty
the dead carry in their sample cases.
Leaning against the wind
I notice tufts of fur in the air
and a driveshaft rising from the sand,
then the horsehair of a violinist's bow
drawn steadily across my neck.



About this poem:
"Something I've always found meaningful and bewitching is a short poem's ability to exist at the crossroads of vastly real and vastly metaphorical landscapes—the universe captured in a fleeting, image-driven shapshot. Charles Simic claims there is a 'religion of the short poem,' and I think he's right. As for the poems I've been working on over the past year, which include 'Opening Gambit,' I've found myself at the altar of Yannis Ritos, James Wright, and John Haines."

Michael McGriff

Men Keep on Dying

              to the memory of Denis Johnson

The stranger bites into an orange
and places the rind between us
on the park bench.
It becomes a small raft of fire.

I came here to admire
the iron-lit indifference
of the geese on the pond.

The summers here
are a circuit in parallel
with everything I cannot say,
wrote the inventor
before he was hanged
from the bridge
this park is named after.
His entire life devoted
to capturing inextinguishable light
in a teardrop of enamel.
He was hanged for touching
the forehead of another man
in the wrong century.

The only thing invented
by the man I lost yesterday
was his last step into a final
set of parenthesis.
I came here to watch the geese
and think of him.

The stranger and I
share the orange rind
as an ashtray.
He lights my cigarette
and the shadows of our hands
touch on the ground.

His left leg is amputated
below the knee
and the bell tower rings
above the town.
I tell him my name
and he says nothing.

With the charred end of a stick
something shaped like a child
on the other side of the pond
draws a door on a concrete wall
and I wonder where the dead
wait in line to be born.

Inversion

for Major and Didi Jackson

There’s no suffering among dandelions,
in the way the corral gate swings open
or how the gears stay up late
to keep the wrists of the dead company.
And there’s no suffering in silt or the word marsh
or in the quadratic equation, which scurries
beneath the floorboards of my thought
like a mouse drunk on plum wine.
There’s no suffering in the steam backlit
and seared into the world at an early hour
with the horse as its guide. And there’s no suffering
in lag bolts or u-joints, nor in the sexed-up shadows
of grain elevators. There’s no suffering
in the verb itself—to suffer—which, in my kin’s tongue
means charged by the sight of an owl,
let loose from a barbed hook, returned
to the reservoir of the mind.
Today, I’m a chemical emulsion
that burns light onto paper, a three-cent stamp
honoring a woman whose name
is cloth spread throughout a meadow,
mortar setting up in a constant breeze.
The mountain air takes a handful of memories
from my chest, spreads them before me
like pewter figurines until I feel
like a tube of lipstick with an erotic name
or the long vowels in a wave’s trough,
all hum and echo. Friend, I’m both
a keyhole in a star and the key chained
to a young boy’s neck. I’m the thistle and its bloom,
father rack and pinion son, gravel and its dust.
And here, before you now, I’m on a measure
of consonants gnawing the green roots
from a blinded moon, where I say to hell with kings
and jeweled blood, for in this kingdom
suffering shall be, but never be invented.