Leslie Contreras Schwartz
There is a bunker, a sort of basement
in a field with a padlocked
door, a long chain reinforcing
its shutter tight.
A dank cellar, beneath
the warm earth, beneath a field of wild
flowers which surround me, Texas wildflowers:
Swamp Lilies in a ditch, Indian Blankets
with their brilliant red centers, Mexican Hats
and their bare cone shape, Skeleton Weed, those rows
of hairy Black-eyed Susans outnumbered
by Texas Baby Blue Eyes and neon pink Phlox.
In each stall heat rises
from a single horse, each beast
varying in size, age, strength,
They blink in the dark with bright
eyes, wet and heavy-lashed, waiting.
Their rustling horse sounds, full of sweet gum
seeds that could pierce the bottoms of my feet like tiny teeth,
all in the dark except for the slivers
of light breaking through slots in the door.
There are many horses. I cannot say how many.
Four-legged creatures, short haired,
contained in cells beneath my feet. Not
a metaphor. I regard the basement door from a distance,
barefoot in this field. I remind myself of that distance
and that they require no food, no caregiving,
no comfort, no energy.
They live there, breathe, grow old,
whether I think of them or not.
These are my animals. If I destroy them, I destroy myself.
Should I enter? I’ve got to bury the ones
in the back, half alive—
except the ancient one,
long gone, its body slumped inside me
for a century.
Let's deal with that one first. The creature
has waited for rest so long it no longer waits.
I'm waiting for some viciousness
to arrive, to volunteer. That girl
raises her hand,
a bitter tongue curled, her hand
a permanent fist. I've got this.
She shovels long past necessary, I can barely
see her head, her small
body almost eaten up
by that hole.
I want this land scarred,
this work she has done.
In the end, she just pats the dirt
shut with her bare hands.
I have no right
to sorrow. I didn't dig.
I pay her up
and leave with not a speck
on my blouse.
Why, then, do I feel
like I was the one
who was buried?
I've got to go back, I think
as I walk away.
Somebody's got to do something
with all those other horses.