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 can 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 smiled
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 whatever else you leave undone once 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:
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.
Wildflowers bound the wayside
Thistle flowers and forget-me-nots
No one watched them. They grew
Of their own accord.
No one cared. They willed themselves
Tenders shoots peeping out
Feeding on the morning dew
And the fire to meet the sky.