Eight Poems for Polo
In the beginning there were horses
and the worlds were devised
by their bodies alone;
a ground so they could gallop,
the sky to silhouette their manes.
Between was only the churning
of the planets around their flanks,
sucked in through flared nostrils
Of course they knew of the ball,
more solid than them and white,
like teeth, or the sharp crescent of a straining eye,
but they never chased it.
They ran because their friends were running.
women sway on gray horses,
leaning forward like poplars
over a still algae pond,
slim with fluttering hair
and gazing eyes.
In a rich garden with no snakes,
And no birds,
And no trees either.
Only a wide field where their men flit
Like white winged water bugs.
They wait for them to come,
All in white cotton and amber leather.
Later these women strip the long, red polo wraps
From the horse’s legs,
And wrap them into small soft balls;
hand them to their men, drinking,
Changed now, into darker clothes.
Everyone has played polo.
Your ancestors played polo.
If they did not physically swing the bamboo;
hear the crack of the willow root,
they felt, because everyone does
what it is to sit atop force and beauty,
and never absolutely have control.
They hurtled at a target
they could not be certain would remain
or they would be able to hit.
Your children will play polo.
There is nothing you can do to stop this.
Teach them to swing,
even cocksure, wide and wild,
striking the ground into explosion.
In Manipuri there is a polo god
Born in the waves of timeless hooves,
a tiny planetary body
rocketing through space.
There was chaos then
as the fancy grew into war;
a fountain of flesh and hair,
swinging arms and sharp feet,
momentous and dangerously free.
Then one pony turned
and saw in the ball what the people saw,
perhaps what it wanted,
to be perfect, balanced, and brightly colored.
A borrowed groom,
I cannot make the unfamiliar, freckled horse,
quit orbiting me, tireless and proud.
Try as I might to stand still,
I sway with the motion.
When his rider comes,
Our horses meet,
Leaping like startled water birds
From a green pond,
And the mallets bend like cattails
He and his rider are gone again,
and I am holding a new, used horse,
Sopping and panting,
Already turning circles around me
even as I drag her from the tide.
we understood how ancient the game was,
but it meant so much less than
hanging the steaming blankets,
reds, yellows, blues like a drawn sunset;
dipping frosted hands into buckets,
the ice already crawling across the puddles.
Silence, except for the swish of thin horse tails;
the dust hanging like wind chimes,
Perhaps there is perfection in the end,
In the antique art of cleaning leather,
sponges in slow circles of preservation,
The bit was a surprise,
the saddle, with its wooden spine,
spider webs of leather,
beneath and between their legs
over, around their neck,
their fluttering ears
thick, flat foreheads.
Their tail was braided and taped.
Their legs were wrapped in red cloth,
and buckled rubber sheets.
It all seemed like so much fuss
to do what they were made for,
to fling one hoof before the other,
to carry that strange and careful being
who knew what to do.
In the hollow pavilion
after the crowds and professionals,
even the ice cream vendors,
have gone to their personal comforts
we remain, we grooms and trainers,
we cleaners and carriers.
We run silently round and round the ring
Playing in sandals and ruined boots and barefoot,
falling to our hands and knees,
driving the pounded sand into our skin,
with sticks, a soccer ball,
and speechless joy.
The horses, even, are sleeping.
The ball arches over our heads
and hands and mallets,
disappears over the wall
with a soft echo of conclusion.