Mary Ruefle

Eric with the Light Brown Hair



I have no horse! I have no horse!


cries Eric sitting on the porch

of the Twin Maples Retirement Home


and it’s a fine spring day,

I am walking to the playground

when I stop to hear this,

the most profound moment our town

has seen since the ice-cream truck

adopted a rendition of Stephen Foster’s

Oh! Susanna


the profundity of which should be apparent

to all those who linger in blissful repose

over the sad lives of great forgotten men


I have no horse! I have no horse!


Eric behaves as one does

after a beheadment


and I love the ology of it

and the ism of his cry


I love the ology of clouds


and the ism of rain too


but not as specifically as

I love Eric, who seeks his red rose

in the fume of the moment


his mouth oily and explosive,

wide open, waiting for someone

to throw a few peanuts in


God has made some pretty weird comments

in his time, about the nature of human

life and all of that, naturally

they are profound


but somehow they seem like a morbid imitation

compared to Eric’s


and even if he goes back centuries

every time he gets stewed


like the wildflowers who wither on the shore

far from our native glen


I sigh for Eric, who I unanswered,

I sigh for Eric who once had light brown hair


as I swing

floating like a vapor

on the soft-spoken air

What Ye Went Out Into May to See?



At four in the morning

the earth began to smell,

black loam dilating the nostrils of irises

until they unfurled on the spot

and everything became charged

as if there were a loose horse

running down the beaten path.

The birds were driven crazy and said things

everyone wants to hear.

Meanwhile the town slept.

God knows what they dreamt.

Every girl over the age of twelve

drank and had a baby. Sometimes the fathers

would push the babies around the block

and give them a dirty shoe to suck on.

Every father over the age of nine smoked.

The only soul out on the streets was lost

in the middle of life, wandering and

weeping – no, wait, there was another one

screaming into his cell phone You don’t

have any cool friends, Susan is a rubber tire

and Becky is fucking thirty and bangs guys

half her age, no, you don’t, you don’t

have any cool friends, so go fuck yourself, Alicia.

Everyone did terrible things with their cars,

driving them in a state of vagabondia

towards a mountain range

made of soft-serve.

Who knows the difference between man and nature?

Perhaps the river despises its own philosophy

and would stop if it could.

These are the questions of spring.




The world was designed and built

to overwhelm and astonish.

Which makes it hard to like.

Like, an American is someone

who thinks Jan Vermeer is from Vermont,

and a woman. I am a woman from Vermont.

Little less surprising than the copiousness

of transpiration, which is so inconsequential

I cannot live without it. Later I will look

for a nail paring on the floor,

as if a maid were coming tomorrow

(one always has to pick up first).

Right now I am writing

on the back of a bank statement.

My happiness is marred only

by my failure to attain it.

Otherwise it would astonish and overwhelm.

Quick, children, put on your robes,

we must all go downstairs to see something.

On this same night was Balthazar

murdered by his servants:

what the Russian soldier, quoting

Heine, scratched on the wall in the room

where the whole royal family was shot,

shot to fleshy pieces with many aims,

at least twenty of which left

explosive stars in the wallpaper.

Their greed and power astonished all.

Their death overwhelms us.

The Afternoon According to Saint Matthew



There’s the black truck

with orange flames

on its hood. There’s the girl

in the pink pajamas. There’s her sister

in a bumblebee suit.

They are playing with dirt.

When they find bugs

they scream

but no one hears them.

Their minds are growing though.

In the late afternoon light

they scoop the dirt into tin cans

so they can bury it

in the backyard.

I think we have a case

of two women grinding at the mill—

one will be taken and one

will be left,

but it’s way too early

to tell.


MARY RUEFLE‘s latest book is Madness, Rack and Honey (Wave Books, 2012); a new book of poems, Trances of the Blast, is forthcoming in October.


Photo Credit: Matt Valentine