They were small shoes
Size three, at the most. Scraped with mud
tearing at the corners
soles weathered from hours in the unforgiving sun
from the dust of the assembly ground
dirty white, buckled shoes
bathed in blood.
they answer to no one
they eat what they get
they sleep where they can.
are nobody’s cats.
they come in all colours
tawny, pepper, mottled, grey
their eyes like glass marbles
that pierce through the dark
they turn up whimpering
when there’s fish on the stove
they set up their own song
a caterwaul for bones
they have litters on the terrace
tiny things born with eyes closed
you pick them by their scrawny necks and fling them out
but they always come back
hungry-eyed, ever resourceful
we had goldfish and they circled around and around
in the bowl on the table near the heavy drapes
covering the picture window and
my mother, always smiling, wanting us all
to be happy, told me, ‘be happy Henry!’
and she was right: it’s better to be happy if you
but my father continued to beat her and me several times a week while
raging inside his 6-foot-two frame because he couldn’t
understand what was attacking him from within.
my mother, poor fish,
wanting to be happy, beaten two or three times a
week, telling me to be happy: ‘Henry, smile!
why don’t you ever smile?’
and then she would smile, to show me how, and it was the
saddest smile I ever saw
one day the goldfish died, all five of them,
they floated on the water, on their sides, their
eyes still open,
and when my father got home he threw them to the cat
there on the kitchen floor and we watched as my mother
Ride a wild horse
with purple wings
Striped yellow and black
except his head
which must be red.
Ride a wild horse
against the sky –
hold tight to his wings
before you die
you leave undone
ride a wild horse
into the sun.
Hannah Kahn (1911-1988)
I came across this poem many years ago, in a Reader’s Digest story about a child growing up with Down Syndrome. There is something so urgent about these lines. It remains one of my favourites to this day, even though I don’t really get the opening stanza. Why must the horse be purple and yellow and black, or any other colour?
But the rest of it – oh! It sings to me: at least once in your life, you must do something wild and unimaginable, something that you will be remembered for for the rest of your life. Whatever else, you leave undone, once ride a wild horse into the sun. At some minute level, I feel this is my purpose in life: to do that one impossibly crazy thing that will change something fundamental in the world. Am I setting myself up for failure with an aim so lofty? Will I ever do something that momentous? Who knows? All I can do is try.
Hannah’s daughter Vivian had Down’s syndrome and Hannah spent much of her spare time working with the differently abled. In the Reader’s Digest story, What Love Can Build, the boy’s mother takes courage in knowing that the poet too faced the tribulations she did. Her son Agustin loved trucks and cranes, and her husband decided to build a tractor along with him, even though how much his son could be a part of the project was uncertain. The poem, she felt, expressed perfectly why she decided to go with her husband’s proposal: “… everyone should have a chance to make one impossible dream come true.”
I leave you with a gorgeous scene at the end of Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, where Spirit, the wild mustang, leaps across the canyon and into the sun:
Source: What Love Can Build by Meg Laughlin, from the Miami Herald’s Tropic, June 21, 1998. Subsequently edited in Reader’s Digest, p. 80-84, May 1999. © 1998 Miami Herald. A link to the original article is available here.
I don’t fear that I may cease,
I fear when I no longer am,
She may forget to forget me,
Searching for a face,
In my broken mirrors,
And then slashing her lines,
In these scattered glass fragments,
Of my old photograph.
I fear they may print my name,
In small obscured letters on page three papers,
Just below the adverts of my killers,
On anniversaries obituaries,
To be erased the very next day,
By hordes of people,
Rushing for the brazen indelible mark,
On their finger nails,
Auctioning their souls once more.
I fear she may behold,
In her frozen moments,
My scarred face,
That has turned to dust,
Long after mother stood alone,
On that solitary window,
Awaiting my, never to be, return.
I fear the kid,
Who grew tormented by poking bunkers,
And watched his sister molested,
By the dark uniform, blacker heart, gun trotter,
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You taught me
To hate myself
Question my assumptions
Squander my pride
Trample my convictions
Revisit my faith.
You taught me
To trade my sheepskin
Cavort with shadows
Hiding in the wall.
You taught me
To gaze in the mirror
And find myself.
The wind rattled through the windows
Strewing papers everywhere
The skies were ablaze in white fire
The heavens raged and flared.
The torrent that followed, the fury, the wrath,
The night was not one to forget.