Bucking Bronco Cast in Plaster

In the evening museum, the plaster horse hangs like a relative
hoisted from a ceiling rope. Girdled, bone-eyed, it’s a sweetheart

daguerreotype, the white body taut and spidering, a Conquistador’s
mount caught between invisible ship, invisible shore. I have been

this horse before—a horse dreaming I am human, stuck in the museum
with clock hands wiping the longest day of the year down the pleats

of my skirt. Outside, the city’s dirtiness cantilevers into dark.
Somewhere a ballet is starting, and all the world’s lovers making love

every second collapse, begin, collapse again like stopwatches.
Stuck in the museum, I stare at the plaster horse, run a hand over the cake-pan

jowls, up the flat bone of the face to the hollow place above the eye
that collects rain. Bronco, untamed spirit of the West, the plaque suggests

symbolic heritage, the discovery of new lands.  And true, the muscled
flanks command the weight of earth and hooves to cast, the back-curved “U,”

a magnet pulling down-turned toward the green expanse of marble floor—
a prairie, or a sea.  I am convinced of magnitude, but really, he’s a metaphor

for you and love’s geography, all we need to know about each other
saved in symbols, signs from other mapless bodies: the boy with three nipples,

or the scar above her eye like a question. It’s a blind guess
to undiscovered places, the landmark hairlines—could I ever

sculpt this or catch our bodies’ breath in plaster? That one time, remember,
the trees shattered? No thought burned the treetops—no arms no legs

no mouth, no empty and no not empty—just my shirt wound like a bridle
around us in the grass and each blade opening its eye to see.


Red Animals

Sometimes sadness like a colorless snapshot of a 50s
naugahyde trailer, or a tractor rolling noise down the road

inside my ear, or pushing through a thicket of hands—
I am trying to breathe inside the death of another red animal.

When I was twelve I put my horse to sleep. Needle to neck, his head
like a folded coat on my mother’s lap as she sat in the paddock in her nightgown.

His ear like a red boat moving out, and that lake above his eye
that could catch rain—meaning only that he was old, so old now.

Old animal, you tilt a rickety table of clouds now, weaving on jerry-rigged
legs. Old animal, you slant the field at the edge of no more breath.

It took a backhoe to bury that horse, to lay his red body in the ground.
And I have no idea what it means this morning, thirty-five years later

when I tie my red dog to a tree, thinking: he will like this—to lie down
inside the intoxicating wind and slanting light that falls across the field,

this cloudless morning, sun and air, the impossible
inevitable next breath that moves a red river inside everything.

Who knows how it happens? I think: my dog will like this, to be tied
out in the day. Because he is old, so old now. But I have no understanding

of death. And I have no idea what he thinks.


Brief Translations of a Cloud of Starlings 

Our wings are made of green water towers and post-bark
but unlike ferns we hide from nothing.


At lunch our words eat themselves, quarrel and then
the bone falls from our feet. We unfurl again.


Praise the blacksmith taste of horse-shoe lawns,
the coined constraint of beetles.


Inside our mouths we’ve sunk whole prayers. Desire
is a deep butcher.


Inside our shadow’s error, dark swoop over
barns: only straws and coward leaves.


And here’s late afternoon, shining like a buckle in our eyes.

Supination is a softer answer, our pinprick sailboat
buttoning, unbuttoning the horizon.


Now in the sharp cradle
of sunset: the smallest leaf

menagerie and fiercest borrowing won’t free
us from wind’s tossed palace.


Sarah Messer has received grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mellon Foundation, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Michigan Council for the Arts and others. She is the author of four books: two poetry collections, Bandit Letters (New Issues, 2001), Dress Made of Mice (Black Lawrence, 2015), a history/memoir Red House (Viking, 2004), and a book of translations, Having Once Paused, Poems of Zen Master Ikkyu (University of Michigan Press, 2015). In 2008-2009, she was a Poetry Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies. For many years she taught in the MFA program at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Currently she runs One Pause Poetry (onepausepoetry.org) in Ann Arbor, Michigan and works at White Lotus Farms.