Patty Seyburn


My big brother took me to the track.
He was a grown up.
I was a child.
I split two-dollar bets with my sister-in-law.
Two on Hell-to-pay, please, mister, I'd say at the betting window.
Two on Siren's Song, Silk Stockings, Who's Your Daddy, Barbie's Dream.
Horses' names are always like that: sort of obvious.
Names reflect namers: who they are or want to be.
I strode up to the window, cheerfully.
Always polite.
No one ever said: where's your mama?
No one ever said: how old are you?
My brother showed me how to read the racing form.
It was very mathematical. Categorical.
My brother loves numbers.
In a different life he'd have solved Fermat's Theorem, or run around with some kook
like Pythagoras or Newton.
You pick your horses based on how well they've done until now.
You wouldn't place a bet on some unproven new kid
Unless you know something about him.
Maybe they have the hot trainer.
Maybe their owner owns winners.
Maybe their sire was a legend.
Remember that Lou Reed song? "What becomes a legend most?"
Remember Lou Reed?
Or maybe, you just have a "feeling" about the horse.
Maybe he's dappled, and you liked the word "dappled."
This all comes back to me now, and I haven't been for decades.
I can still see the tiny print.
Then I could read it.
There are people at the track with broken faces and fingers.
People who drink and dope and smoke.
People who throw their money at lost causes with funny names
Because a longshot really pays off
Especially in a perfecta or a trifecta.
People with a penchant for debt, and an allergy to winning.
People with coded gestures.
People named Sal.
I could never pick the order in which horses would win.
I'd feel lucky if my horse showed some pride, some chutzpah.
I thought, for a kid, I had the knack.
My sister-in-law and I usually broke even:
We were cheap dates.
My other brother took me horseback riding at a farm outside of the city.
The city was closer to the country, then.
My horse ran into the woods as I gripped its mane.
Galloped and galloped while I held fast.
My knees gripped, too.
Every part of me: gripped.
Branches scratched my face and arms.
My sister-in-law's horse wouldn't move after mine bolted.
They were siblings or friends.
Or simply used to following each other.
It's a beautiful story.
The whole processional stopped.
Apparently, I got the wild one.
Give the city kid the wild one - that'll show her.
God has a funny plan.
The guide caught up to me after what seemed like years.
What was years was how long I had nightmares.
I'd dream that my horse ran through endless woods, ending up at I-75.
And my parents would pass in the Ford LTD, en route to Flint or Tampa, and see me,
But they couldn't catch me, and I wanted them to.
It was no use.
I was on that horse for good.
I was later embarrassed to learn what Freud said about horses.
Horses and girls.
My poor brothers: both complicit in some inevitable rite of passage
They're fine men.
They wanted to get to know the little girl who was their sister
When they were already men, with lovely wives.
They invited me into their lives, and I shyly accepted.
I wonder what will give my daughter her nightmares.
What fun excursions I'll dream up or allow
That will make her bolt up in bed, sweating.
Night after night, for years
Until she learns that if it wasn't one fear,
It would be another.
Something will take her away.
I don't gamble.
Correction: I have children.
I don't go to the track or casinos.
I stay far away from Vegas, the slots, cards, craps, sports.
What I don't know about myself is legion.
I don't want to find out the hard way.
Let's just say that temptation wears Italian loafers you can't afford.
Let's just say he drives some old-model Jag that you'd look good in.
That anyone looks good in.
Remember that time at the Mirage?
I read some elaborate explanation for mirages.
It's all about expectations: when conditions are right, the brain assumes
That water must be present, along with the sky.
The brain leaps to a false, wishful conclusion.
The brain will arrive there, over and over.
The brain is a dreamer.

Stick & Stones (ii)

Back in the day, matter spread out in a nearly uniform sea 
with subtle undulations. 

Over time, gravity pulled matter into vast filaments
		filament, filament, filament

and emptied the intervening voids. 
Cosmic acceleration has changed all that: no clumping. 

We go too fast!  
I've had trouble with my cake mixes clumping. 

For centuries, the process changed little. 
		pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake

The 16th century Spice Cake, the 18th century Nun's Cake, 
even the rich Pound Cake of our colonial days required 

long hours of labor, which Puritans enjoyed - each suffering 
just another correction on the sinuous path to the afterlife.

		spare the rod
Balaam's ass refused to continue along his path because 

he saw an angel blocking his way, holding a sword. 
He swerved three times - the last was really a crouch - 

and nothing could tempt him to budge. 
Ass and snake are the only talking animals in scripture. 

The Garden abundant with what we now call "produce."
		blackberry, blackberry, blackberry

It does not say when God created stones.
		nine days old

Jacob slept on one for a desert-pillow.
David readied five smooth for Goliath

who fell and the Theory of Improbability was born.
		Was enough to make a man stare

This spawned the phrase, "What are the odds?"
This begat the track and the trifecta

which demands you pick three horses in order.
Praising his mistress's disheveled appearance, 

Robert Herrick wrote the poem, "Delight in Disorder."
		and a merry old soul was he

Disordered states outnumber ordered ones.
Order is a first-class luxury like certain fowl.

		duck, duck
Bobby Fischer spends time in Japan playing random chess.

Back-row pieces are rearranged to eliminate what he calls 
the "yawning predictability" of the game. 

Fischer is a jerk.
Really, a jerk.

		had a wife and couldn't keep her
Newton thought gravity always attractive but now 

we've found that some is repulsive, though I don't like to judge. 
I do like to listen to my son sing, as infants have perfect pitch.

		spoil the child
Soon, I tell him, you will get your own stick and you can poke 

the devil in the eye.
		three blind mice, three blind mice

The earliest printed books are called incunabula, from the Latin 
for "swaddling clothes." 

This is where the colophon comes from.
I have an affection for symbols because they take up so much 

less room than the phenomenal world. 
		little lamb, little lamb, little lamb

Still, I would rather not fall from a great height.
		let down your hair

It can be hard to put me together.

Patty Seyburn's third book of poems, HILARITY, won the New Issues Press Green Rose Prize and will be published in 2009. She teaches at California State University, Long Beach.