by James Wright
Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
My mother lived with this poem under her sink for two months before she found it. “I didn’t really understand it.” she said when she called. “Did you give me this poem for a reason?”
Did I? I couldn’t remember. Mostly because I couldn’t remember the poem. “Hmm. . . Is it kind of about beauty?”
“I guess,” she said in her funny way that meant she didn’t think so at all. “I think he says the horse’s ear is soft like a girl’s arm.” My mother has a finely developed sense of the ridiculous.
Like a lot of people, she tells me she’s no good at poetry. As if she failed at reading the poem. As if reading poetry could be completed like Suduko or scored like a golf game.* But look here, she read the poem and she found an image that stayed with her. So the next time she sees a young girl’s wrist (which she will, having many, many granddaughters), she will think of the velvet of a horse’s ear. She will wonder at the softness of it; maybe she will linger over her granddaughters sweet little wrist, feeling it with a secret appreciation. And should she come upon a horse (I’m straining to imagine under what circumstance, but one never knows, do one?), she’ll think of the delicate skin she was fortunate enough to have in her hands.
And that’s what I love about poetry. Not that I usually understand every poem I read. But at the very least I can take away an image—a beautiful or arresting or enlightening image–that I carry around with me like a picture in my wallet to pull out from time to time.
Back to her question. Why did I give her this particular poem? Er, uh, yeah, um. . . there was no reason. So I’ll invent one now. As I’ve mentioned in past posts, my mother is a recent widow. What I take from “The Blessing” is the idea that someone could cross over the barbed wire of dark times to connect with something so beautiful as to make him feel transcendent. That would be my wish for my mother, the blessing I would give her.
I’m not an animal person. Sentient beings whose consciousness is not framed by human language make me jittery. Men who want to put their arms around slender horses make me jittery too. There’s just a little too much nuzzling, caressing, and munching of tufts going on in this poem. Equus, anyone?
Actually I don’t really think there are any zoophiliac issues here. Rather I think the poem speaks of a longing for connection. The poet finds that transcendent communion with the natural world, but I suppose one could find it anywhere.
The last line is beautiful enough to commit to memory: “if I stepped out of my body I would break/Into blossom.”
*Billy Collins’ wonderful poem “Introduction to Poetry” (http://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/001.html ) is a great antidote to this kind of thinking.