BLACK FIELDS, BLACK HORSES
I. A FEELING LIKE SOMETHING'S IN THE EYE
Across from the B.C. Eye Clinic was the Willow Motel. An orderly walks you back to your room when the surgery's over. He opens your door and if you answer, Yes, you'd like some sound, he turns on the TV or the radio. He leaves you a pager, first placing your fingers over a special button so you can feel the bump there of a piece of tape. Just press that, and he'll be back in a flash.
And so all one's needs are met. Lie back now and rest, he says.
I was coming awake in Canada and there was snow coming down. Or maybe there was only a mirage of snow since my sight, these days, wasn't to be trusted. I was seeing starbursts. Earlier I'd seen haloes around the heads of the horrible motel dogs and the unctuous orderly.
That's completely as it should be, the orderly said. That's par for the course.
Up Highway 1 is the Kokanee Glacier. Ten million years ago it got this far south and west and gave up. I've walked on it. Stood on the Precambrian rubble: frozen scat from wooly mammoths. Extinct berries. Amid this primeval trash are lime Jell-O boxes, red rubber bands, and a mutant ninja turtle whose legs are pinned in the ice but whose arms seem to struggle upwards, reaching out stubby ninja hands. All this under my feet. Under the murky frozen crust and a hot noontime sun.
The orderly suggests more drops for my eyes. Tears, he calls them. Artificial tears.
Is there snow? I asked. Real snow?
Isn't it weird? It's nearly May.
How will I drive back to the States?
What driving? he said. Surely you jest.
I try to make my breathing slow down. Try to push back at all that crowds in to suggest what may soon no longer be seen. The list assembles itself up one motel room wall, then spills across another: Ice On the Walk, The Walk, The Curb. The Ferry Coming In. Trees Slumped Under Snow. What's in My Salad. What's in My Stew. Hairdos, Streetlights, Mold On the Cheese. The Ferry Going Out. Sparks, Tools in the Tool Chest, A Man's Hands as They Reach for Me. Wild Onions Shooting Up Near the Aspens. The Aspens.
The laser's pulse had made a ticking sound when it hit the eye. Then the smell like hair burning. The doctor's voice as if speaking from inside a metal pipe. The microkeratome is just cutting a flap. Now we're folding the flap back. Now we're remaking the flap. Just keep looking directly at the blinking light.
In the motel, I'm awakened by the call of an animal. A dog, I think. It's hurt. Its agony is a high vowel lapping at the room. My heart loudly running away with itself. The dog's stepped into a trap. I've heard such stories up here in Canada. The traps are set for the wolves. Any dog who steps in one is considered too stupid to save.
If unable next week or next month to see the glacier, am I simply to stand there in memory? With memory? Memory grows sharper, brighter. That's what the sightless are told by the sighted.
The dog steps out of the trap and limps toward the glacial sludge, sips at its edges, tastes an extinct berry. Sharper now. A brighter red: that gnawed place where his paw had been.
II. WHAT THE PINES ARE NOW
From the pasture, the five brown horses came to stand with me at the fence. We watched the new black horse jump hurdles, carrying a rider--a girl in a white helmet and tall tan boots. When she and the horse sailed over the rails and dropped down, the five brown horses stomped and whinnied and threw their heads.
The stable boys, my brother's friends, kept shoveling. They used to be paperboys. They used to walk poodles. Now they work extra hours to support cars that sit on concrete blocks and drip and rust and stink.
Dust in our eyes. Me and the old horses. Twelve wide brown eyes staring. The girl had that white helmet--like a cartoon bubble waiting for words above the horse's head. The new horse circled and came 'round, heading fast toward another jump. His rider urging Good boy, Good boy into his ear.
If he made it, a black arc--appearing like some suddenly simplified abstract Truth--would widen and hang in the air. His four white feet would fling it off the ground. Something the brown horses and I couldn't believe we'd believe, but we would. We did.
A great black girth soon to be poised in the air over them. There. Like God's eyebrow raised.
III. HALFWAY HOME
Blindness may be one way out of the two countries. Freezing to death could be another. I'm guessing there are many, really.
I doze, sightless in my little gray car on a gravel lane--20 yards from Canada, 20 yards from the U.S. From their squat white guard houses, the two border guards stare at my car. Neither boy will let me pass. I can't see them, but I can hear their walkie-talkies click on and off. Roger, she can just sit there a while. Roger that, yeah, till she gets her head on straight.
The laser pulse had gone bad in my eye. In the recovery room the nurse stood rattling her rosary. Dr. Goof in the doorway: trying but not able to make her stop. Calamity, she'd said, thinking, I suppose, I was deaf too.
I was asleep but dreaming myself awake and driving blind into Nelway and the border crossing there where they knew me and usually waved me through. But not today. No sir. Not with these bandages on my eyes.
Shouldn't someone put her out of her misery? Was that what the nurse had said? To the rosary? To the doctor? All the patient (me) would have left--for all her time remaining on this earth--were her memories. Whatever the hell those were. The nurse was a white blur in the beige room. She said she wished it had turned out differently.
I had a great deal of cash--pretty blue bills in one pocket, and faded green ones in another--but neither of the guard boys wanted it. Did I have any smokes? they asked.
I was a no-go, they said. But I've driven this road a thousand times, I told them. I can absolutely feel it, I said, every curve.
The boys had to smoke for a while to think this over.
Over each white guardhouse, a flag flaps in the wind. I could hear them. The stars and stripes made a whooshing flap; the maple leaf was a whook-whook. Between them the gravel lane was full of potholes. No country owned it so no country was responsible for fixing it. Under my white bandages I saw the blind entering their own country. They held out their arms as if to embrace it. Their landscape was immense: rolling black plains, black hills, fast black rivers.
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