Perhaps the ankle of a horse is holy.
Crossing the Mississippi at dusk, Clemens thought
Of a sequel in which Huck Finn, in old age, became
A hermit, & insane. And never wrote it.
And perhaps all that he left out is holy.
The river, anyway, became a sacrament when
He spoke of it, even though
The last ten chapters were a failure he devised
To please America & make his lady
Happy: to buy her silk, furs, & jewels with
Hues no one in Hannibal had ever seen.
There, above the river, if
The pattern of the stars is a blueprint for a heaven
I also believe the ankle of a horse,
In the seventh furlong, is as delicate as the fine lace
of faith, & therefore holy.
I think it was only Twain's cynicism, the smell of a river
Lingering in his nostrils forever, that kept
His humor alive to the end.
I don't know how he managed it.
I used to make love to a woman, who,
When I left, would kiss the door she held open for me
As if instead of me, as if she already missed me.
I would stand there in the cold air, breathing it,
Amused by her charm, which was, like the scent of a river.
Provocative, the dusk & lights along the shore.
Should I say my soul went mad for a year, &
Could not sleep? To whom should I say so?
She was gentle, & intended no harm.
If the ankle of a horse is holy, & if it fails
In the stretch & the horse goes down &
The jockey in the bright shout of his silks
Is pitched headlong onto
The track & maimed, & if, later the horse is
Destroyed, & all that is holy
Is also destroyed: hundreds of bones & muscles that
Tried their best to be pure flight, a lyric
Made flesh, then
I would like to go home, please.
Even though I betrayed it, & left, even though
I might be, at such a time as I am permitted
To go back to my wife, my son--no one, or
No more than a stone in a pasture full
Of stones, full of the indifferent grasses,
(& Huck Finn insane by then & living alone)
It will be, it might be still,
A place where what can only remain holy grazes, &
Where men might, also, approach with soft halters,
And, having no alternative, lead that fast world
Home--though it is only to the closed dark of stalls,
And though the men walk ahead of the horses slightly
Afraid, & at all times in awe of their
Quickness, & how they have nothing to lose, especially
Now, when the first stars appear slowly enough
To be counted, & the breath of the horses make white signatures
On the air: Last Button, No Kidding, Brief Affair--
And the air is colder.