Arkansas, 1978

 

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-

ragged coyote.

 

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.

 

 

Reno, 1952

 

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 Herron

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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