Walt McDonald

What God Felt Like when I was Twelve

Uncle Carl told me they tore the flesh
from a horse thief near Lubbock in 1880,
gut-cut him and tugged intestines out,
a magician's trick—bandanas knotted
and drawn from a sleeve while the horse thief

howled. Quaker women near a buggy screamed.
Three times they wrapped the string of guts
around the outhouse near the jail.
Three hundred miles from Santa Fe or Dallas,
these arid plains could starve a family,

stranded. Don't mess with my mount, even friends
told friends, sunburned in spite of Stetsons
or straw hats. A horse was a Bible, survival,
god. A man was no better than his word,
which carried as far as pistol lead,

echoes not even cactus grew. Old Uncle Carl
lashed me with his eyes and took the reins,
his best palomino sweaty. He made me unsaddle
and brush the stallion, while the horse bent down
and nuzzled the trough for water, turning,

blowing spray in my face, baptism of holy oats
that choked me, sweat and sprinkled face
like a call from God—a golden horse I stole
and rode, and Uncle Carl's gloved fist
thumping like mercy on my skull.

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