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  • By Johnny Payne

El Cid

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.


Evan Schmitt
Evan Schmitt
Apr 26, 2023

I love the fantasy of this piece. The horse is rented so no matter how far the rider goes, they'll have to return and go back to reality. I imagine someone riding a horse for the first time and feeling the freedom and terror that comes from a horse picking up speed.


Apr 11, 2023

Nice description of her-bent-for-leather ride.

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