One of my father's oldest stories:
how when he was a boy growing up
in that town, there were no ponies.
Buggies were gone almost as soon
as cars came in, but farmers still kept
a horse or two, in the back pasture,
to help with the hay, or for the kids
to ride around on. Not ponies, though.
There were agents from the coal mines
who came through every summer,
driving the back roads, buying up
all the ponies.
They shipped them
down to Terre Haute, to Princeton--
towns in the western part of the state
where they were taken underground
to drag the iron cars laden with coal.
Stabled in darkness, hidden away
from the sun, imprisoned there
forever, or until they dropped
in their tracks--or so the story went,
the reason people said there were
no ponies in these parts.
That was before
I came to understand how grown men
still care about what they cannot change,
how it sticks in their throats when
they try to tell.
I was already half a stranger, home
from college. We were sitting in a maze
of ribbons and wrapping-paper, talking,
drinking warmed-over coffee, when
there was a knock at the back door.
It was the barber, Joe Slayton, saying
he had something to show my father.
I should come too.
We slipped out
into a light snow, fallen in the night,
and winter's brightness everywhere,
and drove along the empty streets
to a house on the west side of town,
where an old man led us down a path
and into a barn.
When our eyes adjusted,
we saw a brown pony with a long mane
wheeling through bars of narrow light
let in by cracks between the boards.
Sometimes it stopped to look back
through the shadows. We could not see
its eyes, but all that space was filled
with its hot breath, its soft nickering.
Sometimes it pawed, and moved off
to a place where its glance caught
in a patch of light, and we could see it
this silken creature
all our stories said was doomed to live
beneath the ground and never see the sun
again--that pranced before us now,
and stamped its hooves against the earth.