Secretariat: The Red Freak, The Miracle

Secretariat: The Red Freak, The Miracle

by Lyn Lifshin

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"This full arc of life—bigger than imagination in a raging fire—is set on paper by a poet obsessed with beauty, hooves, and the passion of flight....In Lifshin’s language, spare yet metaphorically profound, we enter into that animal grace that only a true poet can convey, as we race on from poem to poem, joining Secretariat in triumph—'not for a win but a coronation.'” --Laura Chester

AS THE DAYS GET LONGER

the horse dreams
of flying in the air
like a gust of wind
on an abandoned
Christmas tree,
red exploding like
a spurt of light,
flaming wildly like
those boughs of
northern lights
out of darkness

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781937875626
Publisher: Texas Review Press
Publication date: 04/04/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 397,442
File size: 16 MB
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Secretariat

The Red Freak, the Miracle


By Lyn Lifshin

Texas Review Press

Copyright © 2014 Lyn Lifshin
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-937875-62-6



CHAPTER 1

WHEN A LEGGY FOAL COMES INTO THE WORLD

(SECRETARIAT'S BIRTH)


    ON A NIGHT HERONS WERE DIVING
    THRU THE WAVES OF NIGHT,
    MARCH 30TH, 1970

    The drizzle, close to
    freezing. It had been
    up in the forties weeks
    past heavy February
    snow. Geese on the
    pond. Black mist over
    Meadow Farm. In
    barn 17 the broodmare
    Somethingroyal is
    carrying the last foal
    of Bold Ruler as he is
    dying in Kentucky.
    Grass flattened, matted
    as in hours straw will
    be in the foaling shed.
    If rafters could talk
    they would be singing
    "soon he will be yours,
    this miracle you've
    been given." Wild night
    birds in the distance
    as the mare's udder
    swells, wax drying on
    her nipples as the
    wind rises from
    North Anna's River


    ON THAT NIGHT WAS
    SOMETHINGROYAL

    his mare panting?
    puzzled? Those huge
    shoulders. Something
    she could see
    quivering thru her.
    The mare had foaled
    easily before but
    this time, even with
    her feet on the dirt floor,
    easier footing than
    cement, this time
    with the foal's foreleg
    folded like a petal
    before it opens,
    someone following
    the mare's contractions
    would gently ease him
    out of the birth canal.
    Beautiful the vet
    remembered. His legs
    were perfect,
    he had a beautiful
    head and was
    red as fire



    THOSE WHO EASED SECRETARIAT
    FROM SOMETHINGROYAL

    said he was on his feet
    in 20 minutes, in
    45, he was nursing.
    3 white feet and a
    dripping star. "Big
    strong, male foal with
    plenty of bone." Warm
    breath of horses, Carolina
    River wind. In her log,
    Elizabeth Ham, the farm
    secretary wrote, "well
    made colt, good straight
    hind legs, good shoulders,
    good quarters: you
    have to like him"

CHAPTER 2

SCRAMBLING AND SCAMPERING, LEAPING AND JOGGING

(SECRETARIAT'S EARLY DAYS)


    AFTER A WEEK OR TWO

    with Somethingroyal
    always there, Secretariat
    was turned out into a
    much larger field, his
    playground until October.
    Colts and fillies, scrambling
    and scampering, leaping
    and jogging along the
    fence, kicking up their
    heels, tumbling in
    grass. They shadow-
    boxed, reared up
    on their hind legs, jumped
    and bucked until exhausted
    or spooked by the shadow
    of a branch, they scooted
    back to their mother
    to nurse, nuzzle,
    dream and rest


    BIGGER THAN MOST FOALS

    so few days after
    the dark cove of his
    mother. Who knows
    how long what's so
    alive will flutter
    in and out of blurred
    shadows. So many
    nights the foals
    roughhousing,
    biting and kicking.
    So many mornings
    under the old elm
    in the shadow of his
    mare. The sun's
    mouth on him like
    a tongue. Later,
    he will never
    nuzzle another
    horse at the fence


    "A BRUISER," SOME

    one said, bigger than
    the other foals his age.
    His legs barely
    touched the ground
    under the shiny trees.
    He could cuff the other
    foals, bite and
    kick. He was playing.
    Licked by his
    mare, not only at
    birth but long after
    with everyone touching
    and holding him he
    grew bolder,
    confident


    AS THE DAYS GET LONGER

    the horse dreams
    of flying in the air
    like a gust of wind
    on an abandoned
    Christmas tree,
    red exploding like
    a spurt of light,
    flaming wildly like
    those boughs of
    northern lights
    out of darkness


    HE WAS DIFFERENT

    someone who was around
    Secretariat from the time
    of his birth said he was
    different. Just walking
    the horse in the paddock,
    it was as if the wind
    tongued the cups of
    his ears and in a flash,
    if the handler lost focus,
    the horse knew and
    was gone

CHAPTER 3

MOTHER'S BUCK AND YOWL FOR THEIR STOLEN JEWELS

(WEANING)


    BEFORE HE'D GULPED
    HIS CRUSHED OATS

    and sweet feed
    in the shadow of
    Somethingroyal,
    trucks move in
    thru black leaves.
    October 6, red just
    coming into the
    trees, early,
    before he'd
    caught his last
    butterfly or
    torn the day's
    still wet maple, he's
    lifted by strangers
    from the stall as
    if being asked
    to dance. Then,
    pulled from every
    thing he's known,
    he's loaded on
    to a truck before
    he can curl close
    to his mare for
    the last time


    NOW HE CAN'T SMELL HER,
    FEEL HER

    warmth. Terror
    moves thru
    his heart and blood,
    he whinnies and
    screams, howls
    and stamps his
    shaking body.
    Can he hear
    his mother buck
    and run, yowl for
    her stolen jewel?


    INTO THE NIGHT
    LIKE THE OTHER WEANLINGS

    Into the night
    like the other
    weanlings he
    screams in agony,
    paws new straw
    until under a
    blue chill sky
    exhausted, he
    settles into
    the blackness


    WEANING DAY, THE BABIES

    turn their backs as they
    squeal, legs planted in
    hay that smells like
    their mothers. Men
    lift them, careful of flying
    legs and barred teeth.
    The newest mothers keep
    howling. All night
    the foals whinny and moan.
    In a few months if
    their paths crossed, they
    would not recognize
    each other


    LIKE THE OTHER
    JUST WEANED FOALS

    after the red colt stamped around
    in the pasture and his stall,
    linked now only to his
    mother by the bloodline on
    paper, Somethingroyal
    and his sire, Bold Ruler. He
    began to grow out of his
    spindly legs. With several names
    rejected, finally Secretariat
    had his own and stall 11,
    set aside for the most promising
    colt, near the coke machine
    and feed where he'd be
    seen more closely than any
    other foal


    A DIFFERENT MORNING SMELL

    as light moves thru
    the stalls. Crickets and fog.
    Blue sky. The last Monarchs
    on the butterfly bush.
    Can the red colt remember
    that spring night, pulled
    from his mare in the plush dark
    as leaves were just beginning?
    He is shiny like the bright
    Harvest moon next to Jupiter,
    the evening star. These shorter
    days, their long shadows,
    bright yellow sun,
    everything still ahead

CHAPTER 4

FEELING TOUCH AS A SONG THEY CAN DANCE TO

(THE YOUNGEST YEARLINGS)


    IT WAS ALWAYS ONE MOVE
    AT A TIME

    the touch, scent of a
    human. Secretariat
    didn't like his ears
    touched, didn't like
    his feet touched. Not
    even with a rub rag.
    Young horses buck
    and rear feeling the
    strangeness of fingers
    and skin, the feeling,
    presence of a human
    in his stall. Who knows
    what horses dream
    in the jade morning
    rain, what the ones
    who love the horses
    are sure of. The rub
    rag, the rib, the bridle,
    the groom lying across
    Secretariat's back
    slowly as a lover
    taking his girl for
    the first time


    GLITTERING

    nuzzled by mares
    who've nickered after
    them, pushing and
    attentive. Bodies
    on bodies except
    for the few whose
    dams have died.
    All glittering, as
    graceful on the
    way to becoming
    full yearlings.
    The ones who will
    make it, the ones
    without a big heart.
    The ones without
    luck. The ones whose
    bodies betray them
    still on the verge
    of what's ahead,
    veiled, a mystery,
    still a guess, all
    wild potential


    WHAT THE HORSE MUST FEEL

    a warm body, long
    before anyone can
    ride him. The heat,
    the strange weight
    of a body not part
    of himself. Some
    days, a splash of
    orange lilies from a
    stall window. Who
    knows how horses
    understand what has
    not happened but
    is about to. Do they
    listen for a tone
    that unfolds, becomes
    like a tulip opening?
    Feel touch as a song
    they can dance to?


    COLTS CHASING EACH OTHER
    IN THE FIELD

    getting stronger,
    the bit in their mouths,
    power stretching
    from the lines
    to their bodies,
    their bodies
    taking hold, the
    bit taking hold,
    doing what's
    magical
    on their own


    LATER IN THE SOFT SAND

    after the figure
    eights and the touch
    of the reins, the pressure

    after a quarter mile,
    three quarters and then
    half a mile cantering

    Secretariat and the
    other yearlings, moving,
    dancing to the sounds

    of soft clucking.
    In the training log, "a
    very good size, well made

    colt." "Good manners."
    But still before the van
    ride south, one horse

    man remembers, "he
    was a big lazy dude, kind
    of a sleepy colt"

CHAPTER 5

THE GORGEOUS RED CHESTNUT GROWING INTO WHAT WAS TO COME

(SECRETARIAT GOES TO HIALEAH)


    WHEN YOU SEE A HORSE GLISTENING
    IN THE MORNING LIGHT

    tossing his head,
    pawing the earth,
    the buttercups and
    you see the muscles
    shimmer thru his
    body, this muscled
    colt so recently a
    spindly yearling,
    trim and firm, a
    long-legged racing
    machine, stunning,
    riveting. Your heart
    catches, fresh, on the
    verge of beautiful
    and frightening, how
    from the seed of so
    much beauty who
    knows what
    could bloom


    HIS NOSTRILS, SOFT AS VIOLETS

    he was always on
    the muscle, ready
    to go: feeling good,
    he'd rear as cherry
    dust blew past the
    paddock. Even
    before he raced, he
    was loved, special.
    His groom, like a
    mother, a brother.
    They were, some said,
    "kin," joined
    at the hip


    BEFORE THE TRIP SOUTH
    IN THE STILL BLACK EARLY MORNING,
    ONLY THE SLIGHT LIGHT

    coming early. Secretariat's
    teeth filed for the trip
    south. Snow crystals,
    iced leftover leaves.
    For days, the horse
    was loaded into the van,
    driven over ruts and
    hard earth for the journey
    south. January 20,
    his legs rubbed with
    liniment to cool them
    under cotton bandages.
    After walking the ring
    outside his stall he
    was loaded inside the
    van with two fillies
    and a hayrack next
    to him as the van
    slipped off to Route 30
    south to the Carolinas


    BRINGING SECRETARIAT TO FLORIDA

    all night the van
    twisted thru dark
    hills, rumbled
    thru loud storms.
    Horses in darkness.
    Some water, some
    hay. All night
    down past Kentucky
    to Tennessee, to
    Georgia. Onyx sky,
    scrim of light.
    Hours away, the
    van slithered
    under huge oak
    trees. Fog hung in
    the branches
    like the words
    "It's here, it's
    here," light
    beginning to out-
    line branches,
    Florida cool, balmy


    AFTER THE LAST ICE SLIDES
    FROM THE LEAVES

    and the horse van slices
    warm mist toward
    Florida's Hialeah track.
    Past towns wreathed in
    blackness, Secretariat
    entered the new barn.
    Flies on the sill, clicking
    hooves on cement. Gulls
    in reeds, metal doors
    clanging. Water on packed
    mud and Secretariat, his
    muscles glowing, a rust
    gold, muscles on muscles,
    an extra layer running
    down his hock. A beauty
    the ones who hadn't seen
    him chimed in — My God,
    that looks like a big old
    shiny red apple. He is
    absolutely gorgeous



    INSIDE THE BARN

    clomp of the yearlings.
    Photos were taken,
    the horses' scars
    and stars, hearts and
    splashed colors
    written down in a
    book. If a year in a
    horse life equals about
    3 months in a human,
    Secretariat, all legs,
    was like a kid arriving
    for his first day of
    preschool


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Secretariat by Lyn Lifshin. Copyright © 2014 Lyn Lifshin. Excerpted by permission of Texas Review Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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