Time and Place (Unhorsed)

Most of the kids were home when it happened.

All except my father and uncle—

                             the oldest two tasked to help
                             again on their grandfather’s
                             modest farm.

Chancellor—the grandfather
on their mother’s side—
exists only as a name for me:
                                          a constellation
                                 shipwrecked in a memory
                                                the sky
                                     can only vaguely shape.

I imagine most of my father’s siblings—
the young ones at home who hid under the bed
as their mother was struck a final time—
still struggle to recover how that horizon
met those fields.

It doesn’t matter what colors of green and gold
         they saw unfold there—
       fold
and unfold.                         What shut their eyes
               when a fog of red
               betrayed the body
               that made them
               no memory can unhorse.

               Even for my father after eleven years
               helping the horizon meet the fields
               became
                                                     a time before.

But not long after               his mother’s murder
my father would know
                                     another farm—
the Gordon family that fostered him.

               That sucker-punch of cow dung.
               His first dog a German shepherd pup.
               Learning to drive on old red tractor.

So many bales of hay
he could climb to the bats in the barn—asleep
in the rafters—stacked against
the hell
            that followed him there.

And
depending on the day
                             and where he found himself
standing in it
                                     corn stalks tall enough
                       (when he was unafraid to look)
                       to fall
curling over the sun like
uncut hair.

Or at night                          mantling the moon

                                              the dark remains
of dead stars
                         made visible against the glow.

Back home—in the time before—
he wasn’t there
                                  when the brick vanished
                              from the window it held up—
                                                   wasn’t hiding
                                under the bed as if at play
when the hand that held it
                                            warmed the carpet
                                                        with blood.

He wasn’t there
and neither was I.

It doesn’t matter.
                                                                Later

on the Gordon farm—a name
         I’d know well—a name
                                               not to hide from—

                a black Morgan horse named Bravo
                  he would one day teach me to ride.

 

 

 

 

Christopher Shipman is author of The Movie My Murderer Makes: Season II (The Cupboard). His work appears in such journals as Cimarron Review, PANK, Plume, Salt Hill, Spork Press, and TENDERLOIN, among others. His poem, “The Three-Year Crossing,” was a winner of the 2015 Motionpoems Big Bridges prize, judged by Alice Quinn. A Ship on the Line (2015), co-authored with Vincent Cellucci, was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award. He lives in Greensboro, NC, where he teaches literature and creative writing at New Garden Friends School.