My grandfather was a horse thief.
No, that’s not right. Horses stole
my grandfather’s soul and ran with it—
backs saddleless, manes untrimmed, a herd
wild as the world they lived in.
If I was being honest, I’d say
he really stole motorcycles,
changed the numbers, the paint,
then sold them at a price
only kings could afford.
In the late sixties he escaped
from Newark after three cops
caught him lazy, took turns replacing
the demon inside him with six screws
and a metal plate, with each swing
of an industrial flashlight.
That night he may have liked the thought
of a gray mustang charting a desert in Mexico,
maybe a painted mare by his side, the sky
quiet beneath the violent stars.
And notice how contempt
hasn’t set in yet. No, at that moment,
his senses into one sense flowed
with the fluorescent knowledge of pain,
the crash and splinter of glass…
If freedom is fragmented—a lone motorcycle
with a For Sale sign, a new horizon always rising—
what’s the point? I used to have this friend who,
after a while, started to steal from me, and lied
so clearly when confronted, his face turned
the red of a half set sun. I don’t know
if it was a soul, angel, or demon,
but something fled the scene. I imagine
this is how my grandfather felt
driving past the last exit home
on the Garden State Parkway,
his girlfriend by his side, the engine
of the ’77 Chevy stuttering its complaint
for replacement, and there,
above the slush slicked road of 1996,
his chest, fed up with the music, late nights
and booze, kicked into a heart attack.
It’s as if his lies always preceded him,
riding bareback on the two horses
that never existed—the gray mustang
and painted mare galloping now
for no particular reason,
the two imagined beings
he never thought of that night
after the cops beat his head in.
And it doesn’t matter now if they did
or didn’t. In fact, I’d walk away from all this
if the stories would let me. I’d get in my car
and drive up the parkway, past the final
exit home with the windows down
in winter, the clear wind questioning
everything. I’d ask their absence
unstrapped in the passenger seat,
staring blankly at the passing trees
and steady sleet, one last time to leave,
to rise like hell into history.
Max Lasky is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the literary magazine, Leavings (https://www.leavingslitmag.com), and he is an assistant poetry editor for Narrative Magazine. His poems have been published by Frontier Poetry, the Academy of American Poets Anaïs Nin Poetry Prize, and Painted Bride Quarterly.