The light slipping through the chinks in the barn wall, you rising quick and quiet, telling me to wake up, a whisper in my ear, walking barefoot in the hay and then the mud, a finger to your lips, sliding between dry stalks of corn, slow and soft, finding the red horse in a hidden ditch in the far corner of the field, the horse lapping water from the dark mud with his thick tongue, his mouth a funnel, the red horse with the missing ear, the little stub leftover like the end of a cigar, you handing me a smoke you’ve snuck from your father, from his secret pack he keeps tucked behind the leftover blue paint in the garage, the blue paint speckled on your fingers, the wind blowing and you and me passing the smoke between us, two drags then a pass, leaning against the red horse who gets a new name every day, today it’s Jimmy you say, Jimmy O’Jimmy, that’s a good one, I think, yesterday it was Machinehead because its big yellow teeth reminded you of the pistons of a rusting engine, you said, pulling the little flowers hiding in the grass, spinning the little green stems, passing the flowers to me, real careful, making sure we didn’t crumple the petals with our fingers, feeling wise and foolish stroking flower petals, and I tuck a little flower behind my ear and feel like Peter Pan, but I don’t tell you this, I say, why is my thinking always a jumble? and you say my thoughts aren’t jumbled, that my mind is just running to get strong, there’s nothing wrong with a mind that likes to run, and I tell you that my head feels heavy, and you take my hand and put it on the red horse’s wet nose, on Jimmy O’Jimmy’s big black nose, on Machinehead’s big old nose, and his tail spins in lazy circles, his eyes are wet, his breath is warm, I lean my ear down to his mouth and listen, and I think about my brother Duane canning green beans and dreaming about a pretty girl squeezing his knee in a fast car he can’t afford, Duane who likes to say, the Lord loves even us little dogs, and I always say, who you calling a dog, Duane? and Duane says, who you think you are saying you aint a dog? Duane who sings loud at church with tears in his eyes, but who likes to fight, I watched him at the bonfire just a few months ago when the snow was still white, the blood falling fast from the boy’s mouth that Duane hit, that bright blood made brighter by the jumping flames, the smoke was rising towards the stars and I bit my thumb, wondering how blood could be so bright, thinking the ground had come unsealed and was showing what was hiding underneath, a red river swimming below, a river so deep I don’t have the words, all that blood in the snow making me think that life can spill right out, naked and pure, so bright outside the body it looks wrong, and I dipped my finger and drew red around my neck then I picked up a dead branch that had lost its flowers and looked for the wild red horse, for Jimmy O’Jimmy, I sucked the blood off my fingers and slept in your barn that night, you say it’s alright for me to sleep there, your parents don’t mind, I watch the spiders hang down from the barn roof, I sleep good, I got plenty of hay for a pillow, I wrap my jacket tight when I’m cold, I got a knife for when I’m scared, I walk to school and snap my fingers, I put flowers in my pockets sometimes and I take out the flowers when the teacher isn’t looking, I study them up close, all the little flowers, and I think, it’s not so bad, I’m doing alright, I lean in close to the red horse, to Jimmy O’Jimmy, I stroke his good ear, I put a little flower inside it, I give it a kiss.
art by Heidi Turpin