I’m leaving for the beach today. Fenwick Island, to be exact. If you don’t know it, it’s right on the border between Delaware and Maryland. I’ll be there all weekend with six other guys embarking in the following endeavors: 1. drinking; 2. playing cards; 3. eating blue crabs; 4. watching the Phillies at High Stakes; 5. watching the Steelers; 6. playing cornhole; 7. playing wiffle ball; 8. drinking; and 9. drinking. This marks the third straight year this pack of fellas will make the journey to the beach. This time of year, there’s no actual swimming involved, unless you count my brother swimming across the lagoon on a $20 bet (true), or M. and P. jumping in the ocean, hammered, circa 3 a.m. (also true). In fact, I once wrote about this annual trek in my Tales of the Wandering Jew. The only downside is that there was no “sweater bet” made before this year’s pilgrimage. Still, I guarantee that thing makes an appearance at some point. Or, to put it another way, it had better.
I couldn’t help but to think of today’s poem based on this weekend’s trip. I wrote this one back in graduate school. After reading it, several people referenced the film Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken, a movie I’d not (and still haven’t) seen. Apparently the subject matter is the same. Strangely, my poem spawned from an actual postcard featuring the image of a diving horse. It struck me as both fascinating and terrible. Just the mere idea of it seemed both criminal and ridiculous, in that people must have actually amused themselves in this manner, watching a horse belly-flop from a diving board. Looking at that postcard, and long after, I couldn’t shake that image. It haunted me. The cruelty, the awe of the audience, the horror of the animal. How strange, even now, it must have been.
After the Postcard Flying Horses
From below it must have seemed a series
of swinging appendages, hooves rotating
in spastic circles before the inevitable smack
into whatever tiny, shallow pool lay beneath it.
When the horse flushed its head back
above the water, gasping, the crowd
mistook survival for showmanship
and exploded into applause, a handful
of pedestrians left choking on their Red Hots.
It was crazy, the way they hooked the animal
to a crane and raised it to the platform
like a body fished from a drowned lake.
Decked-out in her ruby-studded one-piece,
the trainer threw all of her weight
into the poor thing’s backside, laying hands
against its ass like a successful Sisyphus.
She bulldozed the beast from that thin plank
into open space, then took her bows and waved,
grateful for both of their talents. Meanwhile
that sorry nag coughed and whinnied
for days, unaware of its own gift of flight.
That High Diving Horse, how it pit-stopped
at every local fair from Tuskegee to Reno,
hoisted up over the world only to fall.