Thundering Horse

Amanda Newell


He’s talking about dying.
We’re in his kitchen.
Scarlet the bird 
is shrieking again on her perch.
I’ve already written
my obituary, he says. 
It will be one sentence:
“He was a Tuscarora Indian.”

I take a sip of wine.
You can’t control what people write about you, 
I say, when you’re dead.
Oh yes, he says, I can.


Like a wife, I keep a list of his habits:
He prefers wearing white polos. 
He sneezes five times
and always after sex. He smokes 
Gispert Toro,
shops in bulk at Costco.
On Saturdays, he tunes nitrous blown 
racing engines on the black and white
checkerboard floor of his garage.
It smells like grease and wrenches
and is full of shiny old cars with big wheels 
and names like Tin Indian and Dark Horse.
Once, he let me sit in the front seat of the Swindler A.


saturday i’m busy and sunday is my poker day,
he wrote in his last email,
not bothering to capitalize or punctuate. 
I felt small.
I felt my heart contract.
Then I cried long, wailing tears in my car where no one could see or hear me.
There is nothing I hate more than a spectacle.
I resolved to be done with him.
Who, I asked, pounding the wheel, has more to lose? 


I try, but cannot 
name the source of my attraction to him.
There is nothing
beautiful about him.
He is wrinkled 
and shriveling.
His knees are swollen.
Why? I ask myself.
The first time we tried to fuck 
he said, I have a confession to make.
This morning, I—
Then he went into the other room
and returned with a glass of water and a Viagra.
He said, Give me thirty minutes.
He is older than my father. I know 
what people—even my friends—
would say, if they knew. 
Well, and so what.

I ask if things would be different 
for us if I left him.
I’ve tried to be straight with you, he says.
There is no one else in my life.
I consider this. 
Not having another
is different than wanting 
another. Does he 
want another? I am, 
I realize, a convenience.

It is a moment of great clarity. 


What I need, he says,
is a dream. A vision that lets me know 
it’s OK for us.
What have we been doing 
if it’s not OK?
I ask. Why keep doing it.
And who knows how long it might take 
to summon a vision.
It might come 
tomorrow. It might 
come in a year. 
It might never.

He says we have no choice 
but to keep traipsing toward the horizon.


I went to a psychic.
Maybe she could be more specific.
She said J. would never let me “walk beside him.”
He does care for you, though, she said.
I haven’t been back to her since.


The last time I spent the night with him, I dreamed
we were walking through the woods
holding hands.
The forest floor, downy with pine needles,
seemed to be breathing
slight breaths we felt as ripples under our feet,
a snakelike undulation of the earth.
Then the dismembered heads
of eagles began to emerge, unburying themselves,
each terrible head pulsing as if to say
Look what you’ve done.


One-person birds, he says,
Macaws. She’s screaming at you
because she’s jealous.
She sits on her perch
in the kitchen, chews seeds
and spits them onto the floor.
She likes to interrupt our conversations
when we cook.
Sometimes he throws
a crumpled Coke can at her cage
to quiet her. Or he’ll cover her 
with a sheet, banish her to the basement.
He says he’s already made arrangements 
in his will for her. 
Lucky bird. 


A dream catcher with sun-
bleached feathers dangled from the rearview mirror
of his 1985 red Chevy pickup
with the bumper sticker,
Custer Died for Your Sins.

He parked it on the shoulder of Route 15.
It was early morning,
a wet gray mist over the Blue Ridge.
It would be accurate to say that we traipsed across the field to the burial mound. 

I wore a skirt but the field was unmown
and I could feel the sting of briars and weeds
against my legs as we circled the mound,
offering to the earth pinches of tobacco.

For a long time, he stood
in front of an old tree,
face pressed to the bark.
I never asked him what he saw there.
Or whom.

Later, my legs—crosshatched with cuts—swelled so badly 
I couldn’t walk.


I had ridden in his pickup before,
so many years ago,
when he was married and we drove into town for lunch. 
He was wearing his bear claw necklace
and as we passed the redbuds in full bloom,
I thought of how they looked like clouds of cotton candy.
He leaned toward me and said, You know 
where this is going, right? 

Mostly I wonder when and how he will die.
Who will tell me. I consider giving my number 
to his son and asking him to call 
when something happens to his father.
It seems like begging.
I may have to beg. 
Promise me, I say to J. 
Promise me you’ll talk to me when you’re dead. 
It is impossible and it is ridiculous 
but still it is my only hope. 
You will have to ask, he says.
More begging.
I imagine myself at the burial mound,
sitting cross-legged in front of his favorite tree,
offering tobacco, like grief, to the wind.

Who am I to call him back.