05 March 2008

this poem, "Sending the Mare to Auction," strikes several chords with me today, and the more i read it, the more i love it. it's not because it's in any way connected to my literal experience (for example, i can't ride a horse to save my life, unless the horse is from one of those "rent-a-ride" places in which the horses plod in a single file line up a hill and -- excitement! -- back down).

but there's something about the energy, the defiant, pure, red-hot blood energy, that the speaker remembers in herself when she was younger: "one day vicious, indomitable, the next/crying at the gate...". that energy to resist, to reject, whatever is limiting, damaging, is nearly tangible in the poem. these lines, too, aren't entirely clear -- do they apply to the speaker, the horse, or both? the raw animal energy seems very present in both the descriptions of the mare and of the speaker herself when she was younger -- and it's as though the speaker mourns it even as she recognizes its destructive potential. and when she's sending the mare to auction, well -- "what is it I send to auction?" how much of that energy and drive and fierceness do we lose?

it's not that i'm feeling old and creaky these days (though, in some ways, i am, and i'm generally cranky), but that i've been very grateful lately to lend my energy to projects that work to make the world a better place for someone -- students, this community, the women who've been hurt or abused, the local environment. but i'm also remembering when i was much bolder, when i fought harder for change in institutions, when i worked hard to write about, speak about, create discussions about what i saw that needed changing -- and then to see that change take place.

in the class that i'm teaching, we've been thinking a lot in class about how to use this kind of energy, this forcefulness, this fierce conviction -- and if it could lead to destructive or positive ends. i'm thinking especially of an essay we read recently by Carter Heyward, "Sexuality, Love, and Justice," in which she writes about creating love and justice in our religious, educational, business, and social structures, and how difficult it can be to create that kind of change: "To challenge these assumptions is, in some very real sense, to go mad."

and while i don't advocate crazy all the time, i like the kind of crazy and the kind of energy that fights injustice, that creates hope, that reclaims humanity for all folks, that understands that, as Heyward writes, "loving is always a revolutionary act."

i recognize that i'm on a bit of a soapbox here, and so i'll step down, so as to let the poem take the spotlight, as it does a far better job of illuminating these complexities.

and in the meantime, here's to challenging assumptions, to making change, to "going mad."

Sending the Mare to Auction

~ Jana Harris

choosing the gelding, younger, more placid
I remember my mother chose my brother

over me for that reason, today I am
packing my bad girl off to auction,

the whites of her eyes, red, the vet's
hypnotic voice, temper, he says, such

a temper, but her loveliness outweighs
everything, the shape of her head,

the neck arch, I think of Isak Dinesen
leaving Africa -- "these horses!" she cried

in goodbye -- my first mare the one I should
have had as a girl when I was bolder,

one day vicious, indomitable, the next
crying at the gate, already I've forgotten

she bit me with fury, with her hind legs
struck me down, that day I took a crop,

beat her until I could no longer raise
my arm, the look in that mare's eyes said

it made no difference, there was no way to
make this bad girl good, when she struck me

across the face, was that the look my mother
saw in me? lovely thing, the dreams I had

for her, I am shipping her off the way
my mother did me, her black tail flowing

in my dreams, now I wait for the van,
she waits -- little clock -- by the fence

haunches spread, the stallion watches her
tail cocked, tart, sweating from head to hoof

flesh hot as stove burners, selling this mare
what is it I send to auction?

(published in Claiming the Spirit Within, ed. Marilyn Sewell, Boston: Beacon Press, 1996).

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