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  • For Shergar, Neither Ode nor Elegy
  • Ciaran Berry (bio)

Here’s whip and stirrup, terret and blinker.                      Here’s something stolen that I can’t return.           It’s Epsom Downs or it’s the Curragh of Kildare,where, with a sudden shift of gears that makes                      him lift almost skyward, the odds-on favorite           leaves behind a sluggish field.

Of course he brings the punters to their feet.                      Of course the commentator’s short of words,           his voice rising up through the registers asthe jockey, in the green of the Aga Khan,                      rises almost to standing and his mount breaks           and enters the home straight.

Even to say his name those days was to invoke                      a myth with a white blaze on its forehead           and one wobbly eye. And any old naganyway is so much rich vocabulary,                      just one hind leg made up of hock, fetlock,           pastern, and coronet.

If I watch this happen, then it must be                      on a neighbor’s color set. An early           Wednesday in June. A sitting room, where the manof the house rises from his chair to slap his thigh                      with an imaginary crop and call the horse           in motion poetry. [End Page 53]

If I watch it again, it must be because                       I measure out my life in hands, open           its mouth to count its rotting teeth, knowingeverything we touch must turn to air.                       I’m ten. The horse stands in the winner’s           enclosure. The kettle boils.

Someone brings out the tea and custard creams,                       and I’m not sure if this is ode or elegy,           or if the difference matters. Here’s cannonand coffin joint. Here’s prophet’s mark. The heart                       of a horse which weighs about the same as           a newborn babe. Here

are the three masked men who barge through the groom’s door                       and steal the bay colt out under the winter stars.           It’s two years later. The wipers on my father’s car(a Simca? a Chrysler?) wave good-bye as we                       slosh through the rain behind the mover’s van           the same day my grandfather

leaves behind the empty house of his body,                       his cancer, too, a sort of kidnapper.           Days like that you learn to live a little morein the language. Days like that, you learn to love                       the names of things. Throatlatch and muzzle,           poll and martingale,

how to say Shergar is to conjure stealth                       and speed, even if he becomes less and less           himself and more and more the hieroglyphfor horse, horse metaphor. How to say the name,                       or how to hold it back, is to consider           all that might disappear, [End Page 54]

loaded into a livestock box and later shot                       and buried in the bog with oak roots, arrowheads,           a broken churn. So much of it isobjects in the rearview mirror. So much                       of it is loss, its svelte dictions, the past tense           entering its perfect form.

Here is my father’s car inching north                       with a slow puncture. Here’s the fistful of dirt           I’ll never scatter on my grandfather’s grave.Here’s the future, with a smoker’s cough, calling                       to say we’ve got your horse. If you want proof,           we can send you an ear. [End Page 55]

Ciaran Berry

Ciaran Berry is the author of The Sphere of Birds and The Dead Zoo, which was recently published. His poetry has appeared lately in AGNI, Ploughshares, and The Threepenny Review.



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