This piece is inspired by a poem by Marge Piercy called Seven Horses. I riff on the idea of horses as symbol and mediator for the imagination.
I wish I had had horses. I wish I had thought of that. I like to think my imagination is one of my best features but I know that is a debatable point. At first the people around me like it when I say, “I have an idea!” but then it begins to happen that they run the other way. My ideas are too literal. I really mean them. Perhaps I would have drained a little energy if I had imagined myself riding the flying red horse from the Mobil sign.
Or a unicorn. I always thought I would meet a unicorn. Or Pegasus. It would have been wonderful to ride on the back of Pegasus, feeling his wings beat up and down, slow strokes moving us forward over all the boundaries and barriers I was learning to negotiate.
I loved the E. Nesbit stories – wasn’t there one about a flying carpet? In these stories the children live in a very real world of trouble and struggle, the father mysteriously and unjustly absent. They have the freedom one can find only in the imagination, freedom to roam along the railroad tracks or an abandoned quarry, freedom to find in the world a benevolent old gentleman or a strange and magical creature named It.
Unlike Marge Piercy, though, and perhaps because of books like that, I thought the freedom, the magic, would come to me. I would open my very own closet door one day and it would have become the door to another world. This would have happened because of powers beyond my control but in some way because of me.
When all the children were supposed to clap to save Tinkerbell my father would not let me. He did not explain, he just did not allow it. It was as if he forbade me a shared experience of magic. But he couldn’t stop me sending Tinkerbell strengthening thoughts and, sure enough, she recovered. So I got the idea that I could think things and they would happen.
Soon I realized it wasn’t quite that easy. There were rules. But I thought if I could learn them then the closet would become a passageway to something strange and wonderful. Or I would be pulled off the bus on the way to school. Or walk in the rain and end up somewhere else. I used to carry a Swiss Army knife, just in case.
After a while all the magical creatures faded but I kept faith with the thought of a parallel universe interpenetrating my own in mysterious ways. That, too, had a protocol. One needed to be willing to see it in action, to know and to marvel at the signs of its appearance, but not to put too much store by them. I learned to bow toward those epiphanies, much as one would acknowledge the new moon, but not to cling, be needy, or prideful. Such appearances happen to everyone. The sacred is democratic.
So my adult understanding of magic is that it is only modestly escapist. The horse that allowed the young girl of the poem to gallop off any map she had ever seen stays in the corral now. But every once in a while, when I lure her in, murmuring the incantations I have learned over the years, she locks her brown, liquid eyes to mine, and winks.
Image from The House and Other Arctic Musings
And a bow to Zee Zahava, in whose writing circle this post was born.