One day, a Shetland pony appeared in our back lot, by the fence where the woods once stood. My father, no animal man, tethered it there. I’d heard that other children craved such a creature to the point of tears, and a beating.
It was beautiful, with its blond bangs and thick back.
I watched it for awhile, after coming home from school, where I’d used to hide in the trees when we played Ghost.
In three days, a man in a pick-up hauled it off.
Thirty years later, I tell this story at the shelter, to a girl who’s run away, like that pony. I tell it to get close to her as she rolls damp clay from “art hour” over the poem she’s penciled out but will not read.
She doesn’t care how many “participation points” the staffer on duty might take away. Her poem, imprinted on the clay, rolls over itself, jumbling.
“You ain’t lyin’, are you?” she asks, looking at me at last, her voice pathetic without its kicking.
I want her to hear her poem.
I see the panicked whites of the pony’s eyes as the man approached it with sugar and a bridle, the man with a whip in his cab.
Published online at Superstition Review
A pencil moves across a page, the line trailing from it perhaps a horizon, though it’s too early to tell. Monteverde, Costa Rica, surrounds the line, and me, who happens to be holding the pencil while somehow also being held by it. In our current age of statistical enthusiasms, you’ll find it asserted that the average pencil contains a line thirty-five miles long, or of about forty-five thousand scrawled words. But it’s also too early to tell how average this pencil might be—or so I hope. I’d purchased it at the village co-op, with a small box of even cheaper colored ones—student pencils—and I brim with the elation of a rank beginner.
The essential character of most adult surprise parties is that they rarely result in the intended surprise. By design or blundering, the guest of honor almost always discovers the plot in advance. He then faces the diplomatic challenge of ignoring the signs that something is afoot and feigning astonishment when all is sprung. If he’s learned of the plot without the planner’s apparent knowledge, and if the planner is his intimate, his situation grows elaborate. Perhaps, his friend, or lover, has intended that he find out about the impending party, with the notion that he will savor the anticipation. Or perhaps the proud contriver wishes him to be extra touched by how much has gone into the contrivance.
They are runaways, throwaways, “problem” teens; culls from meager schools and emissaries from questionable homes; bearers of “emotional disabilities” and lurid autobiographies for which they are medicated elaborately and counseled when possible; products of biology, family, community–of fate, impure and hardly simple.
They have landed here, in the group home school–where Sarah, their instructor, and Bob, her assistant, try to give them enough structure and knowledge to function in the working world beyond graduation. In the middle of this task, for two hours each week, I am to teach them to write poetry.