Keith Polette

The Ride

I place the blanket on the dark horse’s back, then the saddle, and I run the leather straps beneath the belly and cinch them tight. I step into the stirrup and swing myself into place, the way a buoy rights itself after being buffeted by a heavy wave. Beneath me, I feel the wild machinery of muscle and heart winding up, as the prow of the neck and head aim at the vanishing point where the vast field, green as a childhood song, bleeds into the bruised horizon. I think to touch bootheel to quivering flank but lean forward instead and whisper a single word into the ear turned back — a periscope eye trained on me — and before I can close my mouth, we’re off. As if the horse had swallowed a blast of fireworks, it arches its back and rears. We rise high like a knight on a chessboard, high enough that hooves scrape the pewter edge of sky, and for a moment we are an act of lightning, fast-frozen in time — there has never been such an exquisite loneliness as ours. Hooves hit the ground hard, and we bolt breakneck, splitting the fading light, becoming a levy breaking and the mad rush of river after. And in that moment, I realize that if I were to step out of my body, I would burst into shooting stars.

in the bucket
I carry my reflection
to stalled horses

The Birds

You cannot teach a crab to walk straight.

Sunday morning. Mourning doves, grackles, starlings, and cowbirds land in the backyard where they wade through the grassy light, squawking like a carnival sideshow as they poke for bugs, their eyes alert, their heads ticking like second hands as they scan the tops of the surrounding rock walls for crouching cats.

distant church bells
three cardinals gather
at the feeder

As I pass by an open window, I am startled to hear the birds speaking. I pause to listen and am even more surprised to hear them engage in a philosophical disputation. A mourning dove was flapping its wing and arguing for existential nihilism, citing Sartre, declaiming that the mindless repetition of their lives was little more than a slow migration into a maw. A grackle dissented, and following Eliade, asserted that the repetition was but one wheel in the center of a larger wheel, the rotation of the eternal return, while a starling, paraphrasing Derrida, insisted that they were all merely bits of de-located grammar, flying from one sentence to another, in an endless interchange of self-reflexive texts. A cowbird contended that they all exemplified Hegel’s synthesis, since they were the living embodiments of opposites: foot and wing. The birds bickered for half the morning, their words rising and falling like feathers in gusts of wind.

cogito ergo . . .
when is a wing
not a wing?

It was then, from its azalea perch, that the sparrow spoke and, in a sotto voice, reminded them that they were all players in a comedia penned by Aristophanes, repeating lines written long ago, and that in another time and place, they had all been small but vibrant gods. When the other birds heard this, they fell silent, their eyes blank and bright as embers. Then, before they took to the air like music about to be played, they began to glow in the light of the full moon that was still hanging in the morning sky like a spotlight that someone had neglected to turn off.

raven’s cry
when no one knew
iron or oil

Keith Polette has published poetry in Sky Island Journal, Eunoia Review, Otoliths, One Sentence Poems, The Offbeat, The Peeking Cat Anthology, The Esthetic Apostle, Typishly, Sonic Boom, The Shot Glass Review, The Limberlost Review, Orphic Lute, Rendezvous, The Piedmont Literary Review, and Samisdat. He has also published haibun in The Haibun Journal, Haibun Today, Contemporary Haibun Online, Presence, Frogpond, Prune Juice, Chrysanthemum, Sonic Boom, and The Akitsu Quarterly.

His book of haiku, The New World, was published by Red Moon Press (2017) and his book of haibun, Pilgrimage, was published by Red Moon Press in 2020.

He currently lives and writes in El Paso, Texas.
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