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   e l e g y    f o r    a    b e t    t h a t    c o u l d n 't    l o s e

--- C L A Y   M A T T H E W S

You have desire written everywhere

on small scraps of paper, clutched in a hand,

tucked away in a shirt pocket, as if not looking

were the same as knowing, the same as manifest

destiny pressed against a chest beating under pressed

cotton. We have all come here for something.

To bet on grey every race when they pull the horses out.

To bet on what we believe won't happen, but hope for

nonetheless. And language takes over as a sort of resonate claw,

a bear trap dressed in a pink silk blouse, and we stumble

into the sound as much as we stumble into the need

to move forward—quinella, trifecta, exacta, exactly

what we didn't realize we asked for when we gave prayer

another try in the bathroom this morning. And the trumpet,

the trumpet more than anything that moves something within,

the same way Taps played in the distance under a lonesome tree

becomes enough to make a small space inside quiver, even though,

even though we have been here before and tell ourselves

emotion is just another structure tugging away at our sad existence.

To love this. How not to love this. Asking the American

middle class not to gamble is like asking us

not to breathe, to place our small, tired hands

over our hearts as some young girl in white sequins

over-sings the national anthem to which at least one

old man in the crowd will weep. But listen. And they're off.

Into a space brown and wide open. The thunder of feet we sense

but can't hear from this distance. For a collective moment

the world stops breathing. And then. And then. And then the sound

of paper torn in half, the sound of trash cans and feet shuffling,

one last hope left unopened, still clinging to a crumpled hand.

© crossconnect, inc 1995-2006 |
published in association with the |
university of pennsylvania's kelly writers house |