by Jill Mceldowney
I will always answer to that story scripted
for the insurance company:
the horse fell and broke his leg in the rain.
But the truth lies
deep in that burned-blonde blue
grass of mid-November—
a Kentucky anesthetized
in miles of shank high weeds,
hung from a tree with fishing line. The truth is
I share the taste of blood with this night, here,
where the ninth key unlocks the gate, red mist spins
like a summoning across the frozen grass,
in a truck’s brightly lit passing—
a stallion’s eye fans open.
The year of my birth,
the year of no escape
the place of the stallion stalled,
and the horse killer’s calm as he enters.
He kisses the silver
doorplate carved for Alydar
like it will bring him luck.
He smooths down the hair
on the inside of the horse’s cannon bone
as he binds a rope bound to that pickup truck’s axle to it.
Alydar and I are locked together by that
rune of frantic wait—
losing our minds
not on the smell of blood but on knowing
its coming can’t be stopped.
the slide step to flee
the truck engine fires.
I’m in his mind
as the ground jolts from under him
and spiral shatters heel to hock.
Our twin moons of bone twist apart in the same place—
I am marked by that
lone kitchen match,
the horse torched for the insurance
because when I say the name Alydar I say
I couldn’t save you,
I can’t save myself.
I can’t stop your story from repeating itself. What happened to you
happens to me.
My boyfriend breaks my wrist.
I cannot explain
how I walk through a human midnight and still
have nothing to say.
“It was a mistake, promise me
Tell me accident,
tell me the truth
and I will believe it.”
become desperate, reckless,
clawing at the needles of bone
turning to crows under my skin.
Is there a place where this transformation doesn’t happen? Because each time
that story of empty,
rainslick parking lot, how my boyfriend
how this love of my life said
“Look at me, bitch.
Get back in the car—”
he breaks it again. And I never leave
this parking lot,
this sky colored raw, a state populated by ghosts.
The dead master us first, doorkeepers,
those who wrench back the deadbolt—
Kentucky, roll open
under my feet your one hundred years of horses
collapsing against bolt pistols, before grandstands,
stripped of roses,
in your slaughter
house of bone and the hush of tomorrow never comes.
I wish that silence held some passage to forgetting or
loosening the knot of time,
wish that silence could spare both Alydar and I from a past that is not past.
Tonight it is still 1990.
Blood eyed Beelzebub is playing horseshoes at the cemetery gates,
foxes unbutton themselves from night’s skin,
arrive to chew our bones’ broken flesh savory with hormones of panic,
and once more I’ve begun
my rush toward story’s end—
tell it to me again.
When I speak Alydar, I call him from grave’s opening,
drag him through his tomb of frozen grass
back to all of this—
and I know better
than to wake the dead when I can’t sleep myself
but I can’t be alone
when the crows call and sunrise
curls the silver plate on his door to powder,
boils the water in his bucket,
the bone night swore it could heal—
another ritual to shrug and turn from—
but how else to know if I will live?
How else to know when the grass will inherit me?
I need some answer other than ghosts
other than the living
crippled, stumbling fractures to compound
half believing he will rise—
but he’ll join the dead by morning’s shunt
blaze of bone or glare of ice,
by moon fade, by graveyard lights.
Jill Mceldowney is the author of the forthcoming chapbook Airs Above Ground (Finishing Line Press) as well as Kisses Over Babylon (dancing girl press 2016). She is a cofounder and editor for Madhouse Press. Her previously published work has appeared in journals such as Vinyl, Fugue, the Sonora Review, Whiskey Island and other notable publications.