Anne Whitehouse

The Desire for Revenge

 

Inside the desire for revenge

is a painful vulnerability,

a reminder of damage that won’t leave,

 

and you wish for satisfaction,

or just acknowledgment of the wrong.

Instead, frustration grows with denial,

 

and suffering returns in intensity, 

as if time had scarcely elapsed. 

Better not to ask for what won’t be given,

 

even for a great sin or terrible crime.

When at last you realize the hurt 

the hope for revenge still causes you,

 

you can start to let go. Not acceptance, 

but resignation, so unhealed wounds 

may close over at last and scar.

From the Cairo Genizah

Documents and manuscripts 

containing God’s name

couldn’t be destroyed in the usual way.

For a thousand years, 

the Egyptian Jews of Fustat 

put their old Bibles, prayer books,

and law codes in a hiding place 

in Ben Ezra synagogue, 

along with shopping lists, business records, 

marriage contracts, divorce deeds, 

fables and philosophy, 

medical books and magical amulets, 

and letters by the thousands.

 

But what was written 

did not stay buried.

Eight hundred years later,

in a library in New York,

an old man touched a letter

written by Maimonides,

and he did not court disaster

as superstition predicted

but on the contrary was infused

with so much energy

it buoyed him up

and he practically floated

out the front door

of the library on 122nd Street,

walking as if propelled,

with the gait of a young man,

all the way downtown 

to Times Square.

Saratoga

One oval course encloses another, turf inside dirt, 

farther than the human eye can see unaided,

and on summer weekends the races go on

from noon till evening, every half-hour.

 

A thousand horses are stabled near the track.

On the drive along Congress Street,

their aroma rises like an invisible yeast,

a pent-up energy waiting for release.

 

A crowd throngs the park outside the track

to watch the races on video monitors,

sitting at the tables or on the grass,

playing drinking games and getting sloshed.

 

Here a man can smoke a cigar without shame,

with a girl on his arm in a summer dress.

A noisy scene where everyone is on display

stops when the horses are led down the paths.

 

Before the races, they are all possibility,

muscles rippling under their smooth coats,

proud and sensitive, stepping daintily,

without seeming to acknowledge the uproar.

 

People place bets to feel part of the action,

whether to go with the odds or against them,

whether to bet on the horse or the jockey,

to yield to impulse, or trust superstition.

 

Some have theories, mathematical models,

others trade in gossip, intrigue, and rumor.

The dream of winning eludes probability,

and provides favorites to cheer to the finish.

 

The clubhouse and grandstand date

from an age when horses were everywhere.

Past the vendors, ceiling fans whir

over the gentry wearing dress-code jackets.

 

Women decked out in dresses and heels 

and careless men in tee-shirts and shorts

stand next to the fence in the sweltering sun.

Others find refuge under the awnings. 

 

People are eating, drinking, talking, flirting, 

snapping pictures of each other on their cellphones,

reading the racing program, checking stats,

watching the ubiquitous video monitors.

 

Twelve horses at a time approach the starting gate. 

Each has the emotional support of a companion horse 

that must turn back before the race begins.

Jittery, the contenders wait, rival next to rival. 

 

The jockeys rise in the saddle, crops in hand.

Whinnying, the horses prick their ears and take off 

at the peal of the starting bell, accelerating

so fast they seem to rise above the earth.

 

They fly down the straightaway, around the bend.

Sometimes the lead changes second by second.

Amid shouts of the announcer and cheers of the crowd,

the horses seem to exist in another realm

 

where the bystanders have ceased to matter,

and they are running for the sheer love of it.

Born and bred to race, it’s why they exist,  

yet to win takes will as much as strength, 

 

and sometimes a horse will fold inexplicably 

and fall back. Win or lose, the effort leaves them 

drenched in sweat. For hours they must be walked 

in circles to cool down. It’s a job 

 

for the foreign seasonal workers who return 

year after year to ice their sore legs, apply poultices 

and bandages, feed and groom them, calm and care 

for them, delicate and high-strung as they are.

 

And though they seem to float above the ground,

each race tears up the course. In between the races,

men replace by hand the divots on the turf track,

and tractors smooth the dirt track free of hoofprints.

THE COURTSHIP OF WINDS

© 2015 by William Ray