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Riding Horseback with Sylvia Plath
by Lyn Lifshin

She was more hands on. I had taken
a few lessons as a child, but she wanted
to plunge in. I told her I didn't want
any injuries. Ballet was my obsession
and even a mild Achilles tendon ache
or sore knee makes me seethe. She
was a good dancer, you should have
seen her in that tight red dress, blonde
hair. Neither of us were as blonde as
we pretended. What isn't an illusion
with poets? Stages of trying to pare
everything down, poems, our legs,

our whole bodies. Not that she was
ever as plump as I was. I painted
horses, as she did, fell in love with
their beauty, wildness. We both fell
for those enormous mahogany eyes,
as we did for many similar lovers:
big untamable, a little scary. We
could lose ourselves in their
manes, leave whatever was most
terrifying or hideous out of sight.
When I wrote about Ruffian, the
gorgeous tragic race horse, Sylvia

understood how the world went
away, as when she brushed Ariel,
loosed the caked mud from her
flanks and tail. There was no one
to bother her, no nasty notes from men,
no over-worried mother's calls or
letters, intrusions we both knew
too well and couldn't quite deal
with. No one was telling us
what to do when we were lost
in horses. No advice, threats,
warnings. We both had had it
being told what to do

Early morning, before it's light,
to be one with a horse, especially
if it's your birthday: ecstasy.
Sometimes, it's as though
it's too much to be charming,
and still, give up wildness.
When Sylvia rode Ariel
as dark sky began to lose
its ink, she broke for that
moment, out of everything
holding her, as I did with Ruffian,
cantering, galloping, airborne,

no longer daughter, mother, wife


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