The View from Mattie’s Pillow

Things That Go Fast

This past week, for one. Last Friday, after a dance class taught by my dancer son, Ira, we all sat out on the deck at the Pump House swatting early season mosquitoes and watching the Chena River rush past. There were small ice floes, some just flat sheets of ice, some upended pieces that had once been frozen to river mud, now showing the bottom, tinged with red-orange silt and cratered from air pockets trapped there. A few ice sheets had ice chunks sitting on top of them where they had split off of another ice sheet and been shoved one atop the other when the river ice upstream had broken up. The river had been nearly still just the day before, the water rising where it had backed up from ice jams down river.

“The ice must have gone out in Nenana,” I said. We watched branches and more ice chunks float by fast. Then, upstream, we noticed something black, triangular, bobbing at intervals, and moving more slowly than the rest. From time to time it would rise from the river as if to see where it was going, then sink back to a low profile. As it got closer, we could see that it was the corner of a flat object, possibly a shed roof, floating with the current but trailing some part that created drag—or maybe reached the river bottom—and caused the whole thing to lift up occasionally. We watched it for a long time, a slow, unseasonably warm evening beside a fast river.

When we got home, we discovered that the ice had gone out in Nenana at about that time, freeing the Tanana and its tributary, the Chena and flushing the Interior of ice, dead wood, shed roofs, and other detritus that had ended up near the riverbanks. It’s so unusual for the ice to go out at night that only two people had chosen that time and will split the pot. Other years, dozens of people have split the pot, so this was a good year for the winners.

And the next day, another fast thing, Mine That Bird, an unknown horse who came from the back of the pack where, it turns out, he was just cooling his heels, biding his time, waiting for the cue from jockey Calvin Borel to dash past all the tiring favorites and run away with the race. I watched the race on a grainy screen at the Exhibit Hall in the Center for the Arts where horse people were gathered for a tack swap. Next to me, a 10-year-old girl, who knew all the details of her favorite horse and several others and who sat riveted during the race.

Friends who ask me about my feelings about horse racing expect me to talk about abuse or illegal substances, but I’m a bit goofy about watching Thoroughbreds run. They are lean, fit, high-strung horses–teenagers, really–and they love to run. Young colts in the wild race and play together; horse racing takes advantage of this impulse. And horses are honest—to see them stretched out running so fast just because they can—it makes me smile. The Kentucky Derby is all about potential. These horses are growing so fast at three years old that they will be completely different horses in a couple weeks for the Preakness, and even more different—some of them even taller—by the time the Belmont Stakes rolls around. I like to watch them all. They send me back to Mattie and Sam, determined to work through our stuck places and get them and me fit for the riding season. They remind me that anything is possible and to enjoy the moments of summer (and winter, but that’s another subject) as fully as I possibly can. The excitement of the crowd reminds me that it’s time to crawl out of my winter hole and share these moments with my friends.

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3 Responses to “The View from Mattie’s Pillow”

  1. Glow Says:

    MP, we need another Poetry Challenge! Something about water, ice, things that go fast.

  2. Glow Says:

    Abigail, 6 years old
    kicking and stomping and singing
    in her kid way
    woods, dog, life in the rural South
    on the edge of the forest and fields
    surrounded by adults who loved her.
    One January, Abigail and the dog
    took a walk in the woods
    childhood slipping away fast
    By 3:00 PM, no sign
    a frantic call to me, her goddessmother
    Abigal and the dog are lost in the woods
    afternoon slipping away fast
    I arrive in minutes
    the sheriff already there
    logic and rationality slipping away fast
    police authority and my subservience holding steady
    but light and hope slipping away fast
    a search team hastily gathered
    time slipping away fast
    cold slipping in fast
    dark slipping in fast
    fear slipping slipping in
    between sips I spilled coffee on the police car
    hands shaking,
    confidence slipping away fast
    fear taking over fast
    finally the team we comb the woods
    wrong way, I want to shout
    the river, this way, walk fast
    water slipping away fast
    small feet slipping away fast on water, ice
    I heard a scream at 9:11 PM
    did you hear that? No, I alone heard.
    Seconds later, the dog runs up to us, fast,
    alone,
    tongue hanging out
    fast pant although it’s cold.
    After that moment, time stopped slipping fast.
    Time slowed down.
    Hours, days stretched as we searched.
    Mart and I walked up the river.
    Found the logjam, water not slipping fast.
    No slipping fast, water swelling, jelling behind.
    This is where she is, I said,
    my back turning,
    fast again I moved through the woods
    enough slipping, enough fast,
    not fast enough days ago,
    not fast enough now to remove.
    Her body blue from the cold, swelled from the water.
    Abigail, who moved fast while alive
    dancing to the song only she could hear
    slipped fast into the water
    only to linger there for days
    while her soul decided in its leisure
    which water goddess to become.

  3. mattiespillow Says:

    Thanks for posting this, Glow. It’s hard to know how to respond to the death of a child, but it’s one of the things poetry is good for.

    Look at the post from yesterday on the blog for a poem on a similar subject.

    Meanwhile, enjoy the sun, plant some flowers and broccoli.

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