May 16, 2016KR BlogBlogEnthusiamsEthicsRemembrancesWriting

What a Wicked Game


I have come a long way, to surrender my shadow
To the shadow of a horse

—James Wright, “Sitting in a small screenhouse on a summer morning”


You finish this essay after a three-hour downpour in Hong Kong, sitting on wet stone steps close to your in-laws’ apartment. School were closed today due to severity of the thunderstorms, which were severe but short-lived compared to the day-long torrent predicted. It’s still drizzling, and you are writing this on your tablet device while balancing an umbrella in the crook of your elbow. The rain has cooled the air. It is still hot, but not as oppressive as the days before. Everything is damp: the stone steps, your hair, your skin and clothes, your lips parting in steam, and vapor scatters an acidic yet sweet dew along the ridges of your tongue.

The storm began late last night. Your husband, like his father, can sleep through storms, and like you, his mother cannot. The two of you ended up drinking tea under the canvas canopy on their roof and watching the lightning strike the water, as boats swayed unsteadily in the harbor. You told her all about your recent trip to Iceland, meeting an Icelandic horse named Odin and the night you chased the Northern Lights. That you are itching to go back. That you want to explore the more remote parts of the country, venture as close as you can to the Arctic Circle, and then take the highlands roads when they reopen during the long summer days, travel under the midnight sun and fall asleep against Odin’s warm, brown coat, fall into his wet earth eyes.

She slapped away a mosquito biting your arm, blew its tiny corpse from her hand.

She said: Odin is the horse?

To hear another person call him a horse jarred you. How to explain that you do not think of him as a horse. How to then explain that you think of him only this way. How to translate what appears in your dreams: sleeping comet passing over a church steeple where you pray behind the bars of the purest blades. How to say that when he comes to life, he wakes you, he wakes you in your dream and you know you are still dreaming as the sky upends the earth. A hand passing over matted brown hair, the veins in hand and skin and flank flexing, the weight of you, the weight of him.

Your husband’s mother was speaking, interrupting your reverie. You are in this world, in a sprawling city. You were shivering as she covered your bare shoulders with a shawl. She told you horses frighten her. That they are too unpredictable, too proud, too moody, spook too easily, loyal only to themselves. Or so it seems to her.

What you heard: A horse can never be fully broken, and that truth brings out human excess, human recklessness.

Rain came and still you both sat there, calmly sipping tea, protected and not protected at all, as the rain fell sideways, leaving you somewhat drenched.

Then she said: I’m afraid of them because people love them too easily and the horses only tolerate people. That’s why. One-sided love. Always like that.

You felt the need to defend the beloved. You tell her Icelandic horses are different. That Odin is different.

She said: I don’t know. Maybe. I hope so.

Now you sit on a wet stone step, shivering as the water seeps through the bottom of your romper. All around you, endless staircases and dense pockets of green. When you are in Hong Kong, you are either going up or down staircases and hills, narrow paths and winding roads. You lose sense of direction. Your in-laws live at the top of a very steep hill, and you imagine Odin, sure-footed, nimble Odin, appearing at the bottom of the steps unfamiliar to him, the humidity coating his hair. You imagine him climbing up the endless stone steps to you in the rain. And the closer he gets, the closer the air binds you to him, disheveled and tangled. You, his only sense of direction, though he will never reach you, nor you, him.

Not a day has not gone by that you do not think of him.

You want to speak a love, a next love, to illustrate what you are feeling.

You want to write into human experience the measure of hoofbeats clopping on those endless stone steps that lead to the harbor where the wind mixes rain and seawater, where you, restless compass, wait, knowingly, for what will never be.


* * *

We know the horses are there in the dark
meadow because we can smell them,
can hear them breathing.

—Jack Gilbert, “Horses at Midnight Without a Moon”


On the flight to Hong Kong, you begin to watch The Revenant, one of the in-flight options. At the beginning of the film, in the middle of a skirmish, a man approaches a horse standing calmly despite the chaos around him. The man shoots the horse. The horse falls down dead. You turn off the movie. You try to sleep.

A very new anger emerges out of an unfamiliar haze: you had a premonition that there would be such a scene. It replays again and again in your head. A horse stands waiting, does nothing, dies. You dream you come out running from the woods, naked and bloodied, feel the sharp stones and debris cutting into your feet. You reach the man before he can reach the horse. With teeth and lacerated hands, you tear the man to shreds. You fall down dead, and watch as the horse standing amid arrow and gunfire sailing past him fades into the darkness. The horse, for a moment, at peace. The horse is not yet safe. He will never be safe.

You awaken in a start, feeling light-headed and cold, sweat running down from your hairline, the sound of horsecry ringing through your ears.


* * *


There has been
a collapse; perhaps
in the night.
Like a rupture
in water (which
can’t rupture
of course). All
your horses
broken out with
all your horses.

—Kay Ryan, “All Your Horses”


A more direct approach: you have fallen for a horse in a major way. Not just any horse. Not just any place or time. Everything was, for once, as it should be, even when it wasn’t, even when your horse went against you, against the guide who’d raised him, against the natural laws of rushing water and freezing rain. You dream of Odin. You worry the dreams lose their magic when you try to put them into language, let them breathe the air of this world. Once you dreamt of having children, and they were horses. First you felt the weight of them, and then the problems of standing up while giving birth and realized you yourself had been turned into a horse.

How do you speak another species when, in dreams, the transition is seamless?

Or: What kind of love is the moment you want to read someone all the poems you’ve ever read, not just those you’ve written?

There are certain things of a certain caliber you wanted to tell this beloved. Like how you’re writing this right now on voice memo on your iPad standing on the corner of Hill Road and Po Tuck Road in the rain. That voice memo keeps getting your words wrong, and you keep recording over and over, not moving a step, lest you forget all these things you want to say in the rain. Like: You have the church and still are drenched. You meant “an umbrella” instead of “the church.” You don’t read much into this error. You do.

You want to tell Odin that there have only been a few times in your life that you’ve completely paused in the rain, with an utter disregard for destination.

That’s not entirely right.

What you mean: those things that make you stop so completely usually filled you with dread, anxiety, the dark side of surprise.

With Odin, it’s the desire to tell him things, and tell him these things first, and it is utterly thrilling.

You don’t know if you’ve ever felt this way about a human being. It’s not a competition. It’s not about people. Who you’ve loved or love more. Someone taps you on the shoulder: a stranger asks you if you are lost. Because they think you’ve been crying, given how hunched over you are, you suppose, in the eye of your concentration.

You want to tell this stranger that there is now a place in your mind for thing you wish to tell only and strictly Odin first. There is a box of memories already marked “Odin Things.” That when you tell your husband of this, he smiles and says: I had a feeling.

You and he walk around Hong Kong holding hands. You help carry bags for his mother who tells you she’s so proud you are her daughter. She’s quite direct: We understand, you’re an artist. Then she adds: Don’t feel bad for loving a horse.

It sounds comical to your ears, when it’s spoken in human language. When it’s that kind of direct. And when she squeezes your hand, you are reminded how you’ve crossed over so many barriers, cultural and generational.

This, however, is not about crossing barriers.

You want to destroy them altogether.

You want to take all the physical you are, and all that Odin is, and entwine via the different fellowships and struggles of your kinds, the elations, the compulsions, the colors, smells and sounds the other cannot experience, what it means to be horse and what it means to be human, the barbwire and blood of being, to never untangle again.

Taken of first, second, third person. Be what’s next.

Some new, new communion that transcends language.

In one hand is her hand; in the other, your husband’s. You hold them close. You are walking up or down Hill Road in the sandals she bought you for such terrain, the umbrella she gave swinging in the crook of your arm, and all the fruits and vegetables and fish and sweets she’s ever selected for you swing from the other. She calls you daughter. She is patient when you spin around and around looking for north, south, east, west. Your skins are damp. Your husband finds yet another crane in the sky, a new high-rise, a flowershop just opened beneath their home and there is an orchid now on the little table where you write these words. Don’t water it too much. She’ll care for it until you return next.

Somewhere another woman is returning to another horse, and perhaps they are one step closer to a place you haven’t even imagined.

Somewhere an insect pollinates a new flower, a bird of prey tears into the roots of that other flower abandoned. A glacier melts away, and the ashes of a forest slashed-and-burned feed the grief of a woman who cannot find her way home. A woman finds her way home.

Somewhere the wet earth eyes of Odin know not the green that grows in these back alleys in which you have emerged, the narrow, stone steps unrailed and eroding, on a solitary walk, getting more and more lost, the way back someone else readies, someone you love, someone who loves you back in the way one must love a poet. A love not so easy. A love that is a blessing. A love that keeps you as much as it keeps you wandering.

What you mean: the lightning striking the water, not knowing, all of the water in the world, not knowing even after.