Horse looking out at you.

Curly Bob Jenkins was a long tall drink of water
in from the hills for the Jasper County Fair
His mama said he was a middlin’ good looker
but he’d never seen his reflection
flashed back from a good girl’s eye

He’d rode mules and mountain ponies
been tossed off his share
but still was a fair sight for holdin’ on
long enough to call them broke
and he was broke
and needed money
so brought his poke to buy a chance
to ride the Texas Cur

That ol’ horse had made the markets
and the fairs and back street carnys
had traveled with the gypsies
and stomped his hooves in both oceans
but had never let man ner boy
sit long in the sway of his half-broke back

That ol’ rangy cus
was neither mean nor nasty
but could twist inside out
and upside down
and half way round
before a man could reckon
that he wouldn’t ride that day

Curly Bob emptied his pockets
and got his number
and set off to see the sights
the snake eyed girl
the bearded woman
the two headed giant
who argued with himself
until turning both tongues
on Bob and sending him runnin’

That rangy hill boy took in the dust
and the smells of cotton candy
funnel cake and Indian tacos
so hot and sticky and sweet
that his empty stomach whimpered
and twisted and growled
and bucked
just like the Texas Cur

He watched the roller coaster
tilt crazy down the track
and made himself dizzy
at the line for the Tilt-a-Whirl
and that’s where he saw her
that red-headed girl

He had read about them green stones
that shine like lanterns in the dark
green and deep and dark
like the sheen of still water
all mossy at the bottom
He had read of burnished copper
blinding in the sun
and he had dreamed of silk
like Guernsey cream and peach
but he had never lifted eyes
to find it all looking back at him

He backed away like a skittish colt
when she came walking toward him slow
hips swaying just enough
and lips parting in a smile
He tried to remember
what his mama taught him
about strange women
and strange feelin’s
but no words come to mind
no admonition
that was proof against
that red-headed girl

Too many years of bein’ told
he was no account
too many days and nights
of havin’ nothin’
and knowing that the wantin’
was of no use
He backed against the fence
and looked down at his boots
worn thin and and soft and shiny
by hard ridin’ and stony walkin’
and years of dirt and dust
and muck and must

And when she passed so close
her skirt brushed his knee
he stopped breathing right there
lungs full to burstin’
and heart beating like a drummer
who has forgot the tune
and he knew right then
that red-headed gal
was all the song
he ever wanted to sing

They were calling for the riders
the ol’ boys that made a livin’
following the rodeos
and the country fairs
and he thought for just a minute
that he’d chuck it all right there
go back home empty handed
with a heart too full for keepin’
but he had come to take his chances
on that ornery cussed horse
they called the Texas Cur

He drew a number near the middle
and watched those boys all take flight
some holdin’ on a bit longer
some off like the flick of a fly
and he wondered what perverse devil
had possessed him
to give up his last bit of silver
for a half-a-second ride

When his number was up
and he was in the chute
he cut his eyes to that gal up in the stands
and the red of her hair in the noon time sun
was a flame and a chastisement
and the last that he saw
before he landed in the dirt

That dang horse circled round
and stopped right beside him
nudged him gentle and with concern
but without one speck of contrition
for the man’s pained condition
or the hole he had knocked
in what little there was left
of ol’ Curly Bob’s bit of pride

Not a man could stay on
it was no great surprise
and the deal was simple
they would all get another ride
Not half were willing
but some dug deep into their pockets
and pulled out some greenbacks
to pay for the privilege
of horse powered flight

Curly was lookin’ for a seat in the stands
when the man takin’ cash
slipped a number in his hand
On the house, cowboy.
Ride him if you can.

His crumpled paper was marked
Number One

Now that boy had never been a prayer
figured the Almighty had more to do
than bother with a rag-tag hill man
who was of no account
But as he forked that patient pony
he tried a silent supplication
in hopes the application
would glue him to his seat

He held on long enough to get into the ring
before he became a projectile
aimed at the stands
slammed against the wall
and crumpled like last year’s leaf
beneath the eyes of the red-headed girl
And that consarned horse
checked him out again
snuffled him up and down
to be sure he wasn’t broke
let ol’ Curly pull himself up
by holdin’ on t’ stirrup
and walkin’ along beside
as the man limped back to the chute

He wasn’t no mean horse
that Texas Cur
he just didn’t take to bein’ rode
and not one of the payin’ riders
was like to change his mind

But Curly Bob was stubborn
had a streak as stern
as that Missouri granite
they call the Carthage stone
When the third round came by
and he was given another pass
he jammed his hat down hard
stuffed his boots into the stirrups
and allowed as how
he was going to be a cockle burr
on that old boy’s back

He lasted half a minute
and it was the longest minute of his life
the red blur and the roaring
and the snapping of his spine
the taste of blood
and the slipping
and then the lifting
and the freedom
before his mouth filled with dirt

Enough

She was standing right beside him
and reached for the reins
swung easy into the saddle
and turned that horse around

Give him the purse
He earned it

She leaned down against the mane
and handed him his hat
and the glint in the emeralds
flashed a challenge
to the man who would not quit

He may not look like much
but he’s a good horse
He’s just particular who rides him

I guess he’s a lot like me