You’re galloping like El Cid, on a flat Mississippi stretch
on a quarter horse-Arabian mix, rented from a nearby ranch
its legs as long as these lines, its withers beginning to twitch
as if a spell were cast on it, by a mischievous white witch.
Where are you going, hellbent, over the cracked dry turf?
To war, like The Cid, who goes to avenge his honor besmirched?
to slay those who pulled his beard, who banished him from his land
and will soon feel the sting of justice from the sword of his raised right hand?
No, you’re riding for pleasure, your back hunched over the saddle
yet you sweat at the crown of your head, as if you plunged into battle.
The horse doesn’t know your reasons, only that you gallop in haste
like a hero whose fury has risen and wants to lay the world waste.
Through slash pines and Western mayhaws, the two of you kick up dirt
flecks of it carom off your face and others slide into your shirt
and you wish you had a real enemy, one you could run straight through
but in your black heart, you realize, the real enemy is you.
So you ride and you ride, no end in sight, trying to wear yourself down.
The horse breathes hard, asthmatic, but continues to cover ground
and the rain clouds gathered above you hold off from releasing a storm
as you rush toward a fate unspoken, with the thrill of being reborn.
Johnny Payne is Director MFA in Creative Writing at Mount Saint Mary's University in Los Angeles. He has published two previous volumes of poetry, as well as ten novels. In addition, he writes and direct plays in Los Angeles and elsewhere. His plays have been produced professionally and on university stages.