Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch
cbertsch

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Horse-Hearted

Time for another archival moment. When your word-hoard is ill-suited to the present, a foray into the past may do the trick.

This is one of the first poems my first girlfriend -- first of two, I should add -- Annalee wrote to me, for me. You can tell how early it is in the relationship, because she still calls me "Charles." It only took her a couple weeks to reclaim my childhood name of "Charlie" for me. I'd date it early September, 1987.

Annalee had a way of focusing her attention on her desire of the moment that was hard to ward off. As inexperienced as I was, I had no chance of resisting.

But I'm glad, because I wouldn't be here right now if I had blunted the force of her words with armor developed in previous romances.

I had so little positive sense of self when I met her, so little imagery at my disposal that her language became "me" to an extent I now find difficult to comprehend. Although returning to this poem after so many years was painfully intense, I now feel restored:
TO A CHARLES THAT READS IBSEN

You are a balking animal,
huge and unsure of your feet.
You are horse-hearted.
Somewhere you are galloping,
but here you lumber like a draft-horse.
Each foot-fall is like the clopping of hooves,
steady and measured upon any surface.
It seems that you are domesticated,
but in your lit eyes I can see
a bit clenched between your casual teeth.
How can your plodding, deliberate soul be so free?
The narrow bar upon my tongue
rips at the edges of my mouth;
it makes my lips bleed and froth.
I scream like a half-crazed wild beast,
I buck and kick and send dust in all directions,
but my head is in the bridle
and I am
so tame.

There is a handwritten note appended to the poem:
This is a bad poem, so just don't think that I normally write like this. I mean, the stuff about you probably isn't even true. Bist du beeindruckt? I remembered.

Love,

The Circus Poet

The irony is that her words were addressed to a void. They weren't "true" or "not true," because there wasn't anything to measure them against. I incorporated them and made them the truth of my existence, without even realizing it.

I'm not sure why she felt it necessary to qualify the poem with the self-deprecating note. She was probably unsure of how I would react to the characterization.

Reading the poem again, as I typed it in, I'm struck by the slippage from second to first person.

How thoroughly is the speaker identifying with the "horse-hearted" addressee?

Am I to suppose that Annalee herself -- yes, I'm going to lapse into straight biographical criticism -- felt herself to be more "tame" than me, even though she made more of a fuss about the metaphoric bit in her mouth?

I still like the idea of plodding freedom a lot, even though I have a hard time remembering what it was like to feel free.
Tags: autobiography, friends, poetry
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