El Paso: July
Mike is trying to lift up the horse’s head and I’m on one knee trying to get at the big vein in the neck. The sorrel’s eyes are closed: a week of this and he’s almost used up—washy and shaky and about to go down. But before I can open the stop on the jug of Ringer’s, he squeals and bawls and is up on his hind legs, backing away. He’s like that for what seems a long time before everything stops and he falls over backwards. When he hits the ground, a cloud of red dust rises and his last breath leaves him all at once—a loud choked-off grunt.
Shadows are falling. The sky at this hour is layered in reds—all the shades of chestnut horses. The dust is settling. The morning glories climbing the barn are closing up. Soon the coyotes will be out, the burrowing owls. Nighthawks will be calling.
Mike holds the broken lead shank. I wince at my bloody wounds—shoulder, hip, and head. The dead horse’s hide is wet with sweat. We don’t move. We don’t say a thing.
West Texas sunset--
in the seam of earth and sky,
this hot, still moment.
Maybe we knew all along that he would die, but we were young and did not expect life to surrender with such violent reluctance, did not expect the husk of it lying there in the yard to be so different, so absolutely empty.
Jeff Streeby is an old cowboy who earned his MFA in Poetry from Gerald Stern’s program at New England College in New Hampshire. His poem “Biography” won the 2013 Provincetown OuterMost Community Radio Poetry Award. He is a Senior Lecturer in English and History at Assumption University in Bangkok, Thailand.