Phaethon

by Carrie Jerrell

All day you muck the horses’ stalls in heat
that jellifies your arms, your knees, your brain,
and turns the whole group ornery in its pen.
The chestnut bites your shoulder. The broodmare spills
your beer. And twice, you swear, the cribber foal
lets go the wood to call you one dumb fuck.

Later, after sloughing off the stench
and drinking Lone Oak by the light of late-
night Mr. Ed reruns, “Ed Goes to Vegas,”
“Ed the Appleholic,” you stumble to your dreams
to find your father’s fiery stable annoyed
by your gawking. They toss their manes as if to say,
We know you’re no Apollo. Ditto that.
You grew up down the mountain, not in Delphi,
a rag-doll driver with paper chariots
and reins of twine, incapable of handling
dead ringers, let alone these thoroughbreds.
You’ve been bucked, kicked, and railed by your own trainer
who stood over you like a statue you saw once,
greening, glass-eyed, looking through you to fields
diminishing beyond, and to the horses,
always the horses, then straight at you,
into you, the kid who shovels shit, and saying
as he did to Rilke, change your life,
or, do you want to be a serious rider or what?

A bored child, you’ll beg to get your wish, just once,
and when you do and view from those temple gates
a violet dawn and the eagle’s mountaintop perch,
you will know well the weakness of your hands.
And so too will the horses, the leaves you scorch,
the sacred rivers that freeze shut from your distance,
and the god whose rods of thunderbolts will not
be spared on you. Yet you beg, the dream being all
you see: the shiver of the great beasts’ shoulders,
each sunstroke executed perfectly,
each heavenly turn familiar as the fields
you’ve plowed below, where your audience will stand,
shield its eyes, and comment on the weather,
mistaking you for a god, a prophet, your father.

Carrie Jerrell is the author of the book After the Revival, 2008 winner of the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize. She received her MA from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University and her PhD in English from Texas Tech University, where she was honored as a Chancellor’s Fellow. Currently, she is an assistant professor of English and associate director of the MFA program at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky.

pixelstats trackingpixel