Poems

Roan Stallion

The dog barked; then the woman stood in the doorway, and hearing
iron strike stone down the steep road
Covered her head with a black shawl and entered the light rain;
she stood at the turn of the road.
A nobly formed woman; erect and strong as a new tower; the
features stolid and dark
But sculptured into a strong grace; straight nose with a high bridge,
firm and wide eyes, full chin,
Red lips; she was only a fourth part Indian; a Scottish sailor had
planted her in young native earth,
Spanish and Indian, twenty-one years before. He had named her
California when she was born;
That was her name; and had gone north.
She heard the hooves and
wheels come nearer, up the steep road.
The buckskin mare, leaning against the breastpiece, plodded into
sight round the wet bank.
The pale face of the driver followed; the burnt-out eyes; they had
fortune in them. He sat twisted
On the seat of the old buggy, leading a second horse by a long
halter, a roan, a big one,
That stepped daintily; by the swell of the neck, a stallion. 'What
have you got, Johnny?' 'Maskerel's stallion.
Mine now. I won him last night, I had very good luck.' He was
quite drunk, 'They bring their mares up here now.
I keep this fellow. I got money besides, but I'll not show you.'
'Did you buy something, Johnny,
For our Christine? Christmas comes in two days, Johnny.' 'By
God, forgot,' he answered laughing.
'Don't tell Christine it's Christmas; after while I get her something,
maybe.' But California:
'I shared your luck when you lost: you lost me once, Johnny, remember?
Tom Dell had me two nights
Here in the house: other times we've gone hungry: now that
you've won, Christine will have her Christmas.
We share your luck, Johnny. You give me money, I go down to
Monterey to-morrow,
Buy presents for Christine, come back in the evening. Next day
Christmas.' 'You have wet ride,' he answered
Giggling. 'Here money. Five dollar; ten; twelve dollar. You
buy two bottles of rye whiskey for Johnny.'
A11 right. I go to-morrow.'
He was an outcast Hollander; not
old, but shriveled with bad living.
The child Christine inherited from his race blue eyes, from his
life a wizened forehead; she watched
From the house-door her father lurch out of the buggy and lead
with due respect the stallion
To the new corral, the strong one; leaving the wearily breathing
buckskin mare to his wife to unharness.

Storm in the night; the rain on the thin shakes of the roof like
the ocean on rock streamed battering; once thunder
Walked down the narrow canyon into Carmel valley and wore
away westward; Christine was wakeful
With fears and wonders; her father lay too deep for storm to
touch him.
Dawn comes late in the year's dark,
Later into the crack of a canyon under redwoods; and California
slipped from bed
An hour before it; the buckskin would be tired; there was a little
barley, and why should Johnny
Feed all the barley to his stallion? That is what he would do. She
tip-toed out of the room.
Leaving her clothes, he'd waken if she waited to put them on,
and passed from the door of the house
Into the dark of the rain; the big black drops were cold through
the thin shift, but the wet earth
Pleasant under her naked feet. There was a pleasant smell in the
stable; and moving softly,
Touching things gently with the supple bend of the unclothed
body, was pleasant. She found a box,
Filled it with sweet dry barley and took it down to the old
corral. The little mare sighed deeply
At the rail in the wet darkness; and California returning between
two redwoods up to the house
Heard the happy jaws grinding the grain. Johnny could mind
the pigs and chickens. Christine called to her
When she entered the house, but slept again under her hand. She
laid the wet night-dress on a chair-back
And stole into the bedroom to get her clothes. A plank creaked,
and he wakened. She stood motionless
Hearing him stir in the bed. When he was quiet she stooped after
her shoes, and he said softly,
'What are you doing? Come back to bed.' 'It's late, I'm going
to Monterey, I must hitch up.'
'You come to bed first. I been away three days. I give you money,
I take back the money
And what you do in town then?' she sighed sharply and came to
the bed.
He reaching his hands from it
Felt the cool curve and firmness of her flank, and half rising
caught her by the long wet hair.
She endured, and to hasten the act she feigned desire; she had not
for long, except in dream, felt it.
Yesterday's drunkenness made him sluggish and exacting; she
saw, turning her head sadly,
The windows were bright gray with dawn; he embraced her still,
stopping to talk about the stallion.
At length she was permitted to put on her clothes. Clear daylight
over the steep hills;
Gray-shining cloud over the tops of the redwoods; the winter
stream sang loud; the wheels of the buggy
Slipped m deep slime, ground on washed stones at the road-edge.
Down the hill the wrinkled river smothered the ford.
You must keep to the bed of stones: she knew the way by willow
and alder: the buckskin halted mid-stream,
Shuddering, the water her own color washing up to the traces;
but California, drawing up
Her feet out of the whirl onto the seat of the buggy swung the
whip over the yellow water
And drove to the road.
All morning the clouds were racing northward
like a river. At noon they thickened.
When California faced the southwind home from Monterey it
was heavy with level rainfall.
She looked seaward from the foot of the valley; red rays cried
sunset from a trumpet of streaming
Cloud over Lobos, the southwest Occident of the solstice. Twilight
came soon, but the tired mare
Feared the road more than the whip. Mile after mile of slow
gray twilight.
Then, quite suddenly, darkness.
'Christine will be asleep. It is Christmas Eve. The ford. That hour
of daylight wasted this morning!'
She could see nothing; she let the reins lie on the dashboard and
knew at length by the cramp of the wheels
And the pitch down, they had reached it. Noise of wheels on
stones, plashing of hooves in water; a world
Of sounds; no sight; the gentle thunder of water; the mare snorting,
dipping her head, one knew,
To look for footing, in the blackness, under the stream. The
hushing and creaking of the sea-wind
In the passion of invisible willows.
The mare stood still; the woman
shouted to her; spared whip,
For a false leap would lose the track of the ford. She stood.
'The baby's things,' thought California,
'Under the seat: the water will come over the floor'; and rising
in the midst of the water
She tilted the seat; fetched up the doll, the painted wooden chickens,
the woolly bear, the book
Of many pictures, the box of sweets: she brought them all from
under the seat and stored them, trembling,
Under her clothes, about the breasts, under the arms; the corners
of the cardboard boxes
Cut into the soft flesh; but with a piece of rope for a girdle and
wound about the shoulders
All was made fast. The mare stood still as if asleep in the midst
of the water. Then California
Reached out a hand over the stream and fingered her rump; the
solid wet convexity of it
Shook like the beat of a great heart. 'What are you waiting
for?' But the feel of the animal surface
Had wakened a dream, obscured real danger with a dream of
danger. 'What for? For the water-stallion
To break out of the stream, that is what the rump strains for,
him to come up flinging foam sidewise,
Fore-hooves in air, crush me and the rig and curl over his
woman.' She flung out with the whip then,
The mare plunged forward. The buggy drifted sidelong: was
she off ground? Swimming? No: by the splashes.
The driver, a mere prehensile instinct, clung to the side-irons
of the seat and felt the force
But not the coldness of the water, curling over her knees, breaking
up to the waist
Over her body. They'd turned. The mare had turned up stream
and



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