Erin Redfern served in 2015 as poetry judge for the San Francisco Unified School District’s Arts Festival and as associate editor of Poetry Center San Jose’s print publication, Caesura. She works as a writing mentor and spends far too much of her time opening and closing the patio door for her changeable cat, Juniper. www.erinredfern.net
I wish I could say I walked into that ring cocksure
and pummeled the compromised guts of the heavyweights.
I landed more like a stray feather, a little soft-focus, a little
surprised by gravity. Have you ever seen an animal so young
it doesn’t know whether to charge or run, so stands splay-legged,
eye-whites flashing? While holding a hissing brand, ask a foal
if it would rather be marked with Semiotica or Renaissance Studies,
and you’ll see what I mean. In the intro seminar
the French turtleneck expounded until comp lit students
took off their shoes and knocked worn heels on the table top
in a fervid cerebral display. The incomprehensible syllabus blurred.
I’d stowed away on a transport hauling language like freight and hurtling
at high speed toward the wrong planet. And the library towers
were shaped like Catherine wheels, radial stacks expanding,
diminishing like panic attacks. I snuffed the dead air, listened for tenured steps
in stairwells, watched other people’s notebooks tell their faces what to say.
(At least I knew enough not to be a red cape wagging in front of a bull.
Remember the terminal master’s student who wanted to add Leviathan
to the syllabus? At Nevin’s that night there was talk of stringing him up
in the alley behind the free trade coffee shop.) So I learned “Americanist,”
but specialized in Fight-or-Flight-or-Freeze. Even now say “informal meet-and-greet”
to see the backs of my hooves flashing over a distant fence. All the same,
I don’t startle so easily these days. I’ve learned how to value herds, corrals,
open land. I’m not so quick to stand a tight girth or a weight I wasn’t meant to bear.
I know what it’s like to wake in a cramped chute, throat clutching the sweat-sharp dark,
hide twitching at each floorboard’s dull thud, and I know I wasn’t alone
in there. (Remember Elizabeth, who bit her nails to the quick?)
It’s not stupid to run toward air, toward the gate swinging open.
I stand on the other side, now–a crisp fall apple, sugar lumps in my pockets–
and sometimes I spot them–the ones with blinders, burred manes, split hooves.
They’ll be branded, too, but to those who come trembling close I offer a far fence,
a lesson in jumping, and, from my full pockets, these small boons.