Excerpts > Fall 2002

Lynn Burris Butler
There Must Be a Pony

There Must Be a Pony
for Denis Harrison, 1948-1966

It was his first job--feed the Shetland pony
and clean its stall until all the chances
on a give-away-just-in-time-for-Christmas

promotion by Bevis Tires and Tune Up
were sold, the winner drawn, and some
lucky duck kid rides off into the sunset.

It was a small pony, but he was a small boy
and horse manure piles up no matter what--
when you're doing arithmetic, puzzling

over fractions, dividing and multiplying
until your head swims and numbers fly
around you like birds trapped in a barn,

even when you are eating macaroni,
feeling warm, finally safe, and your father
says, "Don't forget to feed the pony."

The December sky is black
and the first microscopic flakes
of hard, dry snow sting his face.

It is a small town, but the streets
grow longer at night, something
only he knows.

Finally, in the urine heavy dark
of the shed, the pony crowds
the boy, and predictably,

steps on his foot, the weight of a tree
or a Buick, but he can't cry
about the blood filling his shoe

all because of the pony, the damned
pony, because it is his job. So he limps
home, past the church

with the plastic Mary, Joseph, and the babe
lying in a manger who, he thinks
looks cold in spite of the bales of hay

and not likely to help a boy limping home
where fractions and spelling words perch
on the bedposts like blackbirds.

But then it's Christmas Eve
and there is turkey and gravy
and new shirts and jeans and the joke,

the cosmic joke that surely must be
a mistake, but isn't. He wins the pony,
a pony which now, at suppertime, stands

tied to an elm tree in back of the house
where the snow falls faster, rolling
like tumbleweeds across the yard.

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