August 6, 2017KR BlogBlogEnthusiamsEthicsRemembrances

Why the Horse Fights the Metaphor: On Love & Tu B’Av

 

There were no better days for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, since on these days the daughters of Jerusalem go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards.

(Taanit 4:8, attributed to Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel)

 

Lately, I’ve been writing love poems about horses.

They aren’t just love poems.

I think of horses all the time now. And they have wanted to be in this essay since I conceived it.

When I whisper the phrase daughters of Jerusalem, horses are running through the narrow streets of the Old City.

When I try to picture vineyards under a full moon, all I see are horses overrunning a high, stone wall and glistering horses in the sky and a moon obscured by a chariot of horses who are breaking free from their carriage.

What I mean: there was never a gateway horse, and all horses exist beyond the grave.

I find myself explaining this often because a few poets who’ve read my recent poems have asked me what the horses stand for? Who is the horse? Is it another poet? Or some sort of artist at least?

It must be, one poet was adamant in telling me.

And he was quite disappointed to learn that when I write of horses, I solely mean horse. Icelandic horses, if you really want to get down to simplifying it in human terms. One horse in particular named Odin who I first wrote about here.

This poet then wrote back: K. So it’s a horse. But a he or a she?

While Odin was male, I try to explain in matters of the horse, gender and sex mean nothing to me.

Oh, I get it. You’re bi, right?

*

I’ve never worn all white and danced in the vineyards as a daughter of Jerusalem under a full moon on this Jewish kind of Valentine’s Day.

I’ve never liked the comparison.

And I say this as someone born on Valentine’s Day, the one of the secular calendar. Or rather, born early, C-sectioned out of the womb.

According to my father, I would not stop screaming until they brought me to my mother, into the arms of a woman who believes holding someone too much, especially children—especially her own children—leads to weakness.

I won that day, and I was not a day old.

I wouldn’t win again with her for a long time and so easily.

A daughter of Jerusalem and a daughter of the border where Mexico meets the United States at the shores of the Gulf, my mother and I rarely wore white because it was too difficult to keep clean. I had exactly one white dress that I wore for my Bat Mitzvah, and during the Kiddush, my mother was terrified I would spill wine on it.

She herself would never feel at home in a synagogue.

My parents were always working, often two jobs each. Other holidays demanded priority, the time they would need to ask off from their secular world jobs. Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah came first. The first Seder night of Passover next.

Tu B’av was acknowledged but as a quiet affair. My father seldom gave my mother flowers since she deemed them a waste of money. She didn’t like that beautiful things could be bought just to die so easily. Her daughter of the Border would not go out like that.

True love doesn’t need a special day, my mother might begin and then laugh: What a ridiculous thing to even say.

Still, on the eve of one past Tu B’av, I see my father soaking my mother’s worn feet in a small blue tub of Epson salts as she studies Modern Hebrew alongside me at the kitchen table, covered in books and papers and schoolwork and bowls of tomatoes and peppers she grows in a small patch of garden that my father built for her. It is one of my first Hebrew lessons. Echad, schtim, schlosh. 1, 2, 3—the male numbers. The main numbers. There are female numbers too, but the male ones are the default ones we use.

Why, I ask him.

It’s always been that way, my father replies.

Will it always be like that?

Do you want to change it?

Can we do that?

Why can’t we, he answer-asks in his particular Aba-speak.

But the teacher will mark it wrong if you do that in class, my mother says, looking at me as if I’m the one who proposed it.

Hebrew is a gendered language. It is foreign land to my Catholic-born Mexican mother, and even though she’s already converted to Judaism, she’s uncertain of its borders, not knowing what might be a transgression. Best to stick to the plan. The rules. The respect for the ancient. Ani ohevet ot’cha. How a woman says I love you to a man. Ani oheve otech. How a man says it to a woman. Next a page with animals. My mother breathes a sigh of relief. Animals are simple. Tseepor. Bird. Kelev. Dog. Chatool. Cat. Soos. Horse.

Soos? I ask.

And as my father repeats the word, I see the way my mother looks at him.

I see the gentleness she reserves for him and no one else.

There are no vineyards here.

This is how we eat fruit in my childhood home: cut a tomato add in half, rub salt in its watery, soft flesh, eat it with your hands.

Soos, I say softly, as if I’ve just found the right word into a secret world.

A most perfect word for the partaking of my most favorite fruit.

A world, that as I later discover, will never stop unfolding.

Soos, I say over and over again, my mouth watering.

Wash your hands before you touch anything else, my mother is saying before I even reach for a knife.

*

Horses are and are not a sensitive subject in our household.

My husband always points out that Odin is a horse you knew less than a week. When he says this, he emphasizes not that Odin is a horse, but that I knew him less than a week.

While others find this amusing, I also hear a slight tension creeping up in his voice.

Probably because my husband and I knew each other for less than a month when we moved in together.

When he told me that he would marry me.

It’s not that he doesn’t want to share the kind of time with another—it’s the timeframe.

It’s that we left that horse behind in Iceland. Over a year ago.

 

*

All the love songs are true: once you fall in love with a horse, you fall in love with horses.

And the horse (horses) will fight (off) the metaphor.

And there is no going back to what you think you see in the mirror.

There’s no going back to your horse-free missed trains and petty disagreements with acquaintances (not over horses). There’s no going back to using language as barbed wire enclosures (that would not keep in your horses).

There’s no going back to a no-horse planet.

You will never look not for them first in people.

And the only thing you want in people are horses, and the only thing you want in horses is more horses.

And you will spend the rest of your life unraveling just how you found the former in a single person, this man, a very serious, very practical man, whose heart is a planet completely populated with horses, where you wear a white dress every day only to get it mud- and grass-stained, your hair whiplashed-tangled.

You will spend the rest of your life knowing you only ever really heard the horses within because you fell in love with this person.

That, on this very Tu B’av, you are reminded that you and your husband found each other in the time of horses.

And tonight, the first of many nights, you will stake your lives on each other in the hope that nothing ever destroys them.

Because your metaphorical horse is the most real thing stomping around your heart.

Because one day it will become the heart itself, long after your own gives out.