I rode hard the along the Mississippi,
a horse the color of the clay outside the house
where we listened to the car radio
come Friday night and danced on the hard red ground.
Through the ditches, down one side and up the other,
through the slurried water pouring toward the bean fields,
ran the red horse whose name was Fire
over the rise of the bank and down
into the flat again, the clumps of ragweed, rabbit tracks, bone-
Saturdays, one after the other, we shared a bath —
the water getting thicker with the red dust
that hennaed our hands, each crease
and around our nails, the cuticles.
The first time I was broken
I’d go to the closet, to smell her clothes
and then face the mirror
on the back of the door
to see I existed
without her. Even now.
A horse gets broken. The terrible way
they break a bottle of water against its forehead.
The horse will give up then
who knows what fractured or crazed.
The red horse broken. The way I ran him
hard, past the bean fields,
out alone into the open country.
El Paso, 1946
At night the wind blows in the streets
grit against your face,
in your teeth. It’s a long way
down to the dry bed
of the river. No one waits for me.
So I say yes. I’m pretty enough
and they want me.
I go to the truck stop bar —
there’s always someone there,
ask the bartender for quarters
for the juke box, play something
slow and sweet.
This is a border town.
I wear my bracelets. Alma
I say when they ask, Maria
or sometimes Eva. They nod
and turn my name
like a Life Saver on their tongues,
turn it softly while they watch
my eyes. I drink their beer.
In the bathroom in the cracked mirror
I put on my red lipstick
and make a kiss to myself. Maria, I say,
or Eva or Alma.
When I look at the cold ground
hard packed outside
I think she might be somewhere under it
no more than bones, her dark hair
blown off like the feathers
of dead birds, her fingers the claws
of skeletal animals long gone
from this earth.
I go with the men but it’s her I find
in their come-easy arms. In the hollow night
I’m alone again,
no more than a bright wound
small and silent
and far away from everyone.
Night after night the dizzying sky
swims with stars sanded bright by the wind.
Sunrise comes fast and hot.
He’s still asleep, so I find what I need,
make coffee, and sit on the doorstep,
put aside my memories and plans,
let the sun eat me up.
Inside the trailer light needles its way
through holes in the blind.
He groans, and his eyelids flutter.
I watch his face while I slide
his keys off the dresser.
I hear the gravel shoot away from the tires,
and something else—
his voice maybe, but I don’t look back.
I drive toward town, shadows to the west
of fence posts, pools of shade
ahead of each tumbleweed, the truck’s twin
running beside me on the dirt, near town
the new black asphalt.
Sun slams off the pavement,
so I wear my dark glasses. At the drugstore
I pretend to look at the display—
Breck shampoo and blue jars of Noxema—
while I scan my reflection.
Behind me I see a State Police car cruise
around the corner, the trooper’s head swivel
toward me as he drifts by. I turn away
from the window and walk toward the casino.
The desert light flattens things
like they’ve been pressed on an ironing board,
the buildings like sets. I’m walking
in somebody’s movie. I can feel the trooper
still watching, checking out
my ass. I walk faster, heading east.
At the intersection I start to run.
My legs are heavy and my head spins,
but I keep running. I hear the car turn
after me, but I don’t stop. I run
straight toward the sun, into the empty light.
Elizabeth Carothers Herron’s poems are forthcoming in Comstock Review, Free State Review and Lindenwood Review and appear in the current or past issues of West Marin Review, Comstock Review, Whistling Shade, Chagrin River Review and Reflections. She was shortlisted for both the Dana Award for Poetry and the James Hearst Poetry Prize in 2015. Her work has been supported by the San Francisco Small Press Traffic award, the National Endowment for the Arts Artists in Community, the Mesa Writer’s Residency and the Foundation for Deep Ecology.