Conjunctions:35 American Poetry: States of the Art

Three Poems
The following appears with two additional Coultas poems in Conjunctions:35.
A Horseless Carriage
“Since then—’tis Centuries—and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horse Heads
Were toward Eternity”
—Emily Dickinson, from #712

We traded some hay and got a pony.
But we were horseless

We got a good deal on a horse
We were full with the horse

The horse was an asshole
We sold the horse

We bought a car
But we were horseless.

         I remember all the grave mowers. I used to follow Elise and his mules to the cemetery. They were majestic. Mules are pretty, people forget that. When he died I bought the old harnesses at auction. People took horse collars and put mirrors where the heads used to go. That was a fad. Everyone had harness and leather lying around that they needed to put some use to. Old oil lamps, railroad lanterns, these things look good with a plant sticking out of them. I once buried treasure in Elise’s meadow. I had been reading about pirates. I was obsessed with finding buried treasure, since there was scant chance of finding buried treasure on a landlocked farm. I decided to make a mystery imagining someone finding it and wondering about whoever buried it. I took a cardboard box, put clues in it, a penny minted that year, a picture of me and my brother, a metal picture frame with curlicues that I now realize was Victorian. Once the field grew over, I could never find it again.

         Tom, down the road, sold his horse buggies when I was a kid but I remember everyone talking about the auction. The buggies. Black carriages, stiff. Horseless now. Motorless. The end of buggies except for the Amish’s yellow, black and white tops. There was Old man Hinkle who drove his horseless carriage so slowly that I’d pass him on my bike. He was headed down the road to where Herb and Buster held court on the front lawn in shell-backed lawn chairs. Mary and Tootsie were in the house, a glass butter churn on the table. I had summer habits that kept me on the road, popping tar bubbles with a stick. (Old asphalt roads had pools of sticky tar, gets on your clothes and ruins them.) Breaking ponies. Fishing (in anyone’s pond). Exploring. The world could be as long as a mile or two. It was the way around, follow the road until you were back to where you began.

         My grandparents were horseless, by the time I knew them. I have a dim photo of my grandpa driving a carriage. My grandma didn’t drive anything as far as I could tell, but she did like to call a bicycle “a wheel.” As in “Where are you going on that wheel?” Or “Put that wheel down and get over here.” Or “Hey, you on the wheel, come back here.” It was a uniquely horseless form of transportation.

         Two farmers in abutting pastures died this fall. Neither of them owned horses. Cody B. in his 60s died of skin cancer that mestastasized into brain cancer. Harold, 83, who inherited the job from Elise, and meticulously mowed the cemetery with a tractor, died of stomach cancer this winter one month shy of the end of the century. Last summer, he wanted his usual garden put out. They put it out a small one, knowing he’d never be able to see it. Now as it snows, I walk toward his grave. I imagine all of us, long horseless, walking. 

Brenda Coultas is the author of A Lonely Cemetery and The Abolition Journal (both Coffeehouse Press).