I thought of home, and how you were telling me

that when you tell people there are birds in Detroit,

they think it’s a metaphor.

 

This happens to me too, except instead of birds,

I usually tell them there are unicorns,

and instead thinking it’s a metaphor,

they think I’m lying to them.

 

They think this because

A) I am, and

B) Well, I thought I had another reason,

but I guess it’s mostly just reason A.

 

What they don’t realize is there actually was a unicorn once.

But only one. (Not plural like I tell them).

 

A boy begged his parents to get him a horse.

They gave in, but screwed up.

Instead, he got a quivering thing

with a whiny and a white horn.  At school,

it was chaos and anger on show-and-tell day:

What’s wrong with your ugly horse, his classmates chanted.

 

Their parents called his parents to rail against

the troublemaker, the kid who wouldn’t “play by the rules.”

 

Jamaal, let me tell you, I have little patience

for these people and their utter paucity of cognition.

 

Anyway, week after week, a mob of small tyrants

traipsed by that kid’s house to terrorize the horse.

They’d spit, they’d point,

they’d bare their stupid, stupid, little teeth.

 

It was more than any kid could take, and torn

between his love of the horse and his desire

not to be different, the boy crumbled the way

all things crumble when they’re kicked

and kicked by the blunt and uninspired.

He snuck out one night with a plan in his brain

and his father’s hacksaw in his backpack.

 

It was the wrong move and the next morning,

the thing was dead.  Discovering the body, he wept

and wept, rushed to recover the horn but already—

it was powder, pale as ashes, coarse as sea salt.

 

Also, Jamaal, I’m glad that two grown-ass dudes

in the middle of America,

can have a meaningful conversation about unicorns.

It says this nation is not yet lost.

 

As for the kid with the dead horse?

Imagine the next day at school. How would he respond?

Tears?  A damning finger pointed

in the direction of his classmates?  Perhaps, he pretended

not to even see them; he simply walked right by:

an exile leaving home forever.

 

Behind him, if one cared to look,

we might have seen most

of the known world: zealous currents, ravaged pastures,

skies that shudder as if trampled by hooves.

 

 

Matthew Olzmann
‘s first book of poems, Mezzanines, was selected for the Kundiman Prize. His second book, Contradictions in the Design, is forthcoming from Alice James Books in November, 2016.  Along with Gabriel Blackwell, he is co-editor of The Collagist.
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