618: Elegy for Kentucky
618: Elegy for Kentucky
I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.
In Kentucky, horses are everywhere. When folks come to visit, even the young kids grow weary of yelling out, “horses!” every time we turn a corner on some pastoral vista just a minute out of the city. I will never get used to them. Those enormous animals swaying in the field. I love them and sometimes they scare me. They scare me because they are more than me, stronger, larger, more in tune with the grass under their hooves.
Once, where I used to walk every morning, there were a bunch of yearlings in an adjacent field. I’d say hello to them and they’d keep their distance, until they’d slowly meander over warily. It felt like we both needed it. The daily greeting. The head nods. The sun coming up. The idea that maybe we’d do this again tomorrow, this thing called living.
In today’s pulsating poem, we see how the speaker needs to acknowledge an old horse every day, and how that need becomes doubled when trauma occurs. We watch too, as the horse and the speaker become almost united in their need for escape.
Elegy for Kentucky
by Joy Priest
Nowhere to drive, night upon night that last summer, but back back to the cokey couple I was crashing with in their 26-year habit. On the way there the same horse always dying at the curve before I turned, like a kitschy disco ball, onto their street, name I can’t recall. There she lay toppled like a toy figurine. Calm but huffing, a laboring machine making steam, though the cold air belonged to June, its grief. A filly done before becoming a mother, great belly black & wide as all surrender & that magnificent face still against the grass waiting on the end. There she was every time whispering something to me, a line throbbing, a visible heartbeat I watched in the mirror for hours with my huge horse eyes. I needed to see her, to make sure she was still there. I went the same way each evening wanting to feel something, to see this once-immortal creature get up. Any weak thing was welcome to finish me then & when he came into the room with bridle & bit, on his 26-year high, when he came up on me where I was lying at that curve in my mind, arms & teeth numb, I did not resist. Just a muted yell inside for months before it lit on me like an ancestor. As a child, I followed my grandfather across the street behind our house —Longfield Avenue, backside of the track where the thoroughbreds for that May’s Derby were trapped, bored of what they were bred for, all their royalty within a corral. My hand, a child’s offering, was empty when they snorted & drew their worn noses across my palm, yet, it was in their nature to remain friendly toward me. My home did not keep its promise after my grandfather died. There was no protection for what I was without him. Lone black filly. Finished before becoming. She must have tired of standing there high-headed, waiting for me to ride her out of that war, to call out let’s go. We are done here.
"Elegy for Kentucky" from HORSEPOWER by Joy Priest copyright © 2021. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.