The Skin of a Horse
The skin of a horse stretches over the back of a sofa
in the study of the house where you and your husband now live. You practice
Healing Touch, lay hands over the hips, belly, pelvis. The horse, you thought
dead, unfurls into its full abdomen, snout, legs, thighs. Shape shifts
into a wild pig. Frightened, you run from the room, pull the white-levered
doors partially closed, grab the phone on the wall in the kitchen of your
childhood home, call your husband for help. The buttons you press dial
every number but his. You're on your own, run upstairs to a house that
transforms into your sister's place in Syracuse. You slip into the boys'
room, first door on the right, try another phone. Broken. The only one
that works sits on a table back in the study, next to the animal whose
power you fear. You hear footsteps in the hall, crack the door to a figure
running-a nude girl, flat chested, painted in Impressionistic strokes.
On the Day of a Lunar Eclipse
After rising high in a saddle, I fall off
a chestnut-haired Tennessee Walker,
not backwards with arms stretched
but rolled like a fetus struggling to stay
inside a mother's womb. All breath
and connection to spine lost. Panting
for air, I gasp, try to take in
oxygen, cry out to my sister
on the horse behind me,
"I can't breathe." She calls
down, "Don't move." And I listen,
inhale, feel a hand grab my armpit,
pull me up. The white light of sun
glares. Brush from rocky landscape
flickers. Horses' legs and hooves
scatter about. At my side,
the Australian wrangler who began
this fiasco when turning his horse
without notice, yelling "Let's canter,"
and my steed followed up
the rocky terrain, his head and mane
flashing from one side to another,
the saddle moving, my body leaning,
feet slipping from stirrups. I yelled,
pulled, pulled, pulled the reins,
felt that frantic sense of control gone,
flew off the horse to the right
or was it left, gasping for breath
lost, when I was unable to take in
the air that makes us human.
Vocation Talk, Fourth Grade
From the back door
of the room, the nun calls
for a line, directs the class
with a nod. We march
into the hall. Boys turn right
toward the priest. Girls follow
left, after her. We climb
the stairs, enter a dark room,
shades pulled, exit light shimmers,
candles surround two statues--
one of Jesus, the other Mary.
Mother Superior kneels
at their feet: God calls
some of us to serve
the religious life, she says.
Today, you may receive a sign.
the wooden kneeler,
my back and legs ache,
knees throb. I close
my eyes tight. The room,
hot. Moisture beads
at my lip. I lift my chin,
squint into dim light,
toward the sculptures.
Eyes of the figures
face down, their mouths
closed, arms still, stiff
against stone bodies.
On An Ordinary Day
While wiping the last lunch dish,
I hear symphonic chanting
like that from the grotto beneath
St. Peter's in Rome.
Rome, that summer
at dawn walking through streets,
Colossal columns, the piazza,
up the stairway to the Basilica,
down to the tombs below.
Arias from priests' voices,
Latin requiems that float
out of one chapel after another.
Another summer, I travel
with my husband from Rome
to Assisi, stay in a pensione
situated above the cloistered
monastery of the Poor Clares.
When least expected,
we hear a choir of voices
through the window
of our room. Sometimes
a sonata echoes as we climb
the steep slopes
of the hilly town toward
our temporary home.
Home in this house, I wonder
about this canon of music,
attempt to shake off these chords,
assume it's only pipes ringing
from plumbing in the wall.
But when the chanting rises,
I hold still, listen in fear
that it might go on,
worse yet, stop,
as I complete the ordinary task
of wiping one last lunch dish.