Saturday, October 18, 2008

Michael McClintock: INTERVAL

.’s end . . .
........the dog pokes his bowl
..........for something to eat

“Not yet,” I tell him. Movement in the kitchen window catches my eye and I walk to it, look quickly, and step outside.

My land falls in a gentle swale down to a paved road that divides the world into small dirt farms on one side and open range on the other. The sun is low and I squint, surprised by what I see.

open prairie . . .
in the summer wind
a golden horse

The horse was no dray or farmer’s nag. It was tall and broad, powerfully muscled in the chest and haunches. The sunlight bathed and burnished it with a luminous perfection. The beast’s natural color was white or cream, pure and flawless; perhaps it was a very light gray. I’d never before seen such a naturally poised and handsome animal. No saddle or bridle—nothing whatsoever to encumber that wild form, standing in the shaggy meadow.

The horse did not come alone.

My visitor appeared to come right up out of the ground and straight up the old wagon road, flapping like a bird, huge and ungainly, the Apocalypse itself yapping after him. Momentarily he was framed by the red, afternoon sky. I thought possibly I recognized him, but I was cautious.

He was dressed all in black, clothes three or four sizes too big. His right hand clamped down on the flat crown of a canvas hat, the long fingers splayed out, as if stretching to cover every inch possible, the hat’s wide brim catching the wind and wanting to fly off his head. He held his left arm like a rudder or balancing beam, now bent at the elbow, now extended straight, the heavy cloth of his suit snapping and tugging at his long, skinny limbs. His gait was steady and powerful but seeming to be at all angles, he struggled so with the wind that buffeted him. Where I stood there was not the slightest breeze.

.....a grasshopper
.....jumps into it:
.....the gathering dusk

He looked like a gaunt country preacher, one of those lonely souls that follow the seasons and go town to town, exhorting all who would listen, except that he lacked the cleric’s white collar and carried no book that I could see. He brought no sheaves with him, as it were. His feet were huge, encased in rough, square shoes—it seemed as though those colossal feet were the sole reason he maintained his hold upon the earth at all. And hold it was, more than just the force of gravity. But for his awkwardness, and his flailing limbs, one might have thought that he was dancing . . . there was a wild rhythm in his movements and progress up the road.

At each step rose a puff of dust, much like those I had seen made by big raindrops on that same road, or in the dirt in the side yard of the house. But these were heavier, almost sticky, and elastic like smoke. The wind tore them away from under his feet and sent them smoldering into the grass, like wisps from the hot embers a prairie fire leaves behind.

“This your farm?” he was asking; he repeated this question several times before I took it in. “I think you know who I am, and why I’m here.” He spoke with a drawl, and though the words came slowly, almost casually, there was a distinct, odd undercurrent of being somehow in a hurry, of restrained impatience, but a desire to be finished quickly with what he had come to do.

“No,” I lied. “I don’t.”

“Oh, I think you do. Sure, you do.” This he said matter-of-factly. I resented his tone, and his sureness.

“Maybe you’d rather ride?” he asked. He gave a long backward glance to the horse, now a quarter mile away. It was a disconcerting gesture; his eye seemed to stretch out from its socket more than it should, giving his face a mawkish expression.

“No, no, I do not, Sir,” I hesitated, wondering at this statement and my own formality. “I have work yet to do, to finish,” I said. “And a dog that wants feeding.”

He appeared astonished. “A dog?” His clothes dropped limp in folds about his frame as the wind stopped. “Do you know what traveling I’ve done to get here?”

His voice had changed in register to that of a nine or ten year old boy. I saw then that his face was hairless—no eyelashes, no discernible eyebrows, no indication of any kind of beard or facial hair. His hands were hairless. There was hair on his head only, wiry and grizzled, sticking out from his hat brim over his ears, with a large number of renegade strands, thin as corn silk, mere filaments, that drifted out from his head and glinted, as if tipped in a copper wash. His gray eyes were like pools under an overcast sky in which nothing dropped or thrown could ever make a ripple.

“Have you come far?” I asked.

The question baffled him. “You’re not what I expected, “he said, and we took measure of each other. There was no shadow between us now.

“Nor are you,” I confessed, “—what I expected. You know, one day we had to meet. It was always somewhere ahead of us.”

“Perhaps it’s this place,” he said, “these circumstances I didn’t expect, more so than you . . .” He did not finish this confused thought.

I shrugged, feeling some sympathy for him.

“I thought there’d be a struggle in the end!” he blurted. “A fight!”

“That would be meaningless,” I said, stating the obvious, making my voice as calm as I could. I did not wish to be harsh about it.

“The banality of it!” he cried.

“Yes, there is that . . . But have you looked at yourself lately? And look at me!”

“But isn’t this what is called a dirt farm? And what is that miserable town over the hill there?”

“Quealy,” I answered him. “Quealy, Wyoming.” He was grasping at his pride, and he found it wanting. “There’s a kind of perfection to the simplicity of it, isn’t there?” I coaxed. “The future was never ours to see.”

A few more words, and I went into the house and got the shotgun from its place under the wall clock. I checked both chambers and rejoined him outside. “We can be quick about this,” was the last thing I said to him.

I buried the body in the side yard that same hour, just as night fell, then went into the house to feed the dog. I confess I gave no thought to the horse.

not knowing
what more to do
. . . crickets

by Michael McClintock
Fresno, California
first published in
Modern Haiku

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