by Jason Labbe
Because the afterlife is a tooth
Found in the ash by a boy and his brothers,
We torched the stables with our horses still inside.
It wasn’t long before the covered truck pulled up.
We climbed aboard and fell asleep. For how long
It’s hard to say—we did not dream of horses.
We felt nothing for fire, and so dreamed of that
Blankness. Wake up to a field of corn or cabbage
And the day’s work requires little instruction.
We had bread and white beans at dusk.
Because possibility is a truck
Rusting away in the brush behind a field,
We slashed the tires, cut the lines and hoses,
Then shattered the windshield with a hammer.
The freight train stopped for us. We huddled
Together in a dark empty car for a long sleep
And dreamed of a brown horse
That was not ours nibbling sweet grass.
Wake up to a white mansion buried under snow
And you know there are shovels handy.
The old man trapped inside gave us
Two roasted chickens, which wasn’t enough.
Because the chickens were delicious,
And for our love of the giant harmonica
And its long song about gradual turns,
We didn’t pull up a section of the nearby tracks.
We harnessed the team of dogs and rode
Out of the cold. We sat with our legs off the back
Of the sled and watched the distant, advancing point
Where our tracks filled with a dream:
Stubblefield, our first horse, with his head
Caught in the fence, the terror in his black eyes
As our father sawed frantically to set him free.
Wake up to a deep ditch, a length of pipe,
A high pile, and—as I said about shovels.
The boiled potatoes with gravy left us hungry.
Because darkness is the light of billions of stars
Concealed by dust and debris,
I do not have to say what we did with the dogs.
We set out on foot into the warm night
And shed our shirts to show our black tattoos:
Seahorses, wild horses, workhorses, all
In shifting detail and by the best artists
Anywhere. And where tattooing was illegal,
We had India ink and a sewing needle,
Our mother’s name down the back of the left calf.
We sat under a tree to rest our aching eyes and feet.
For how long it’s hard to say—we dreamed
Of a sheet of white light we knew to call
Night Sky, though it was just how we imagine
Nothing. We were boys again and our parents still
Alive. We took turns holding the tooth up to the light.
Jason Labbe lives in Brooklyn, works for Simon & Schuster, and plays drums and percussion with various recording and performing projects around the Northeast. His poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Connecticut Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Nebraska Review, Quarterly West, and Sycamore Review, among others. (2003)