The red chain saw lying in the grass. I remember
Finding you face-down in the peony bed,
The ladder fallen beside you. You weren’t dead.
Now, I hike the back pastures all the way to the
Woodlot. I can’t find you. Can’t hear the rumble of the John Deere,
Only the spring birds in their raucous courting.
My cross-wired knee shortening my stride. Behind
The barn, I find you bending
Over the burn pile with a load of limbs
From the chokecherries you’ve thinned.
At our age, we should wear bells
Like cows plodding from the meadow.
When the old mare broke her hip
She leaned on the fence with the black mare
Holding her up. We slowly guided them
To their bedded stalls. The vet said
It’s time. Who will say those words to us.
Who will listen.
All the clocks strike the angelus
For the sleepless. She raises the chalice of hope
As crocus pierces the cold earth and the moon
Hauls tides spackled with empty shells.
The I-ching of centuries of insomnia,
How clerics conspired with kings
Whispering of refugees, lost keys,
Submerged villages. Ah Clio pacing
The rooms of abandon clicking her beads
In rituals of the wakeful. She enters the
Black holes of thinking. The repose of
Politics or mercy: intolerable absolutes.
The sweated bed of three a.m.
Where bats circle like malevolent angels.
Clio, those who cannot sleep
Bless your restlessness, how you slaughter the sheep
Of patience, ache in the terrible passage
Of moonset and starfall. We lie in your arms
Imagining how it would be to win the lottery,
Decorating the rooms of what’s possible,
Enticing a lover. You open the Book of Hours
With its baffling plots, its grammatical lapses,
Its dialogue of boredom.
In your meat dress of drama, you step upon the stage
Prepared for the aria of endless suffering.
What you wish for is not applause
But comprehension, that the metaphor
Of gore, your necklace of skulls,
Apron of braided guts
Should not be ignored by the fans
Of your soaring soprano.
Here in the palace of fear
Where the tiers rise like waves
And the nobles in their boxes peer
Through lorgnettes of a lost time, you blaze
With the flame of a witch burning
And now your song cannot be told
From the escalating shrieks that pain
Invokes from the lonely.
The audience half-bewildered, half-charmed
Doesn’t know whether to clap or flee.
There are those who propose that God
Has written the libretto,
That each act of love or damnation means something
For which their own lives bear witness.
Ah, Clio, in the mystery
Of the trained vocals, artifice of history,
The killing floors drenched.
At the intermission, crowds mingle,
Drinking, exclaiming over the exaltation
Of a performance that will never end
No matter how valiantly you sing.
Joan Colby is editor of Illinois Racing News, a monthly publication for the Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Foundation, published by Midwest Outdoors LLC. She lives with her husband and assorted animals on a small horse farm in Northern Illinois. She is also associate editor of Kentucky Review and FutureCycle Press. Her latest books are Ribcage and Broke.