Palinode: Centaur

Editor’s note: A palinode is the poetic form proper to an issue about correction: a work that retracts a previous poem, the palinode comes from the Greek tradition and is apocryphally associated with the Calabrian poet Stesichorus, who was said to have gone blind after he wrote a poem that blamed Helen for the Trojan war. When he composed a palinode in praise of Helen, his sight was restored. In the following palinode, Donika Kelly meditates on what can and can’t be recanted in a life of transformations always half-finished. –Rebecca Ariel Porte

To understand an ending, I wore
the body of a horse, the head and torso
of a man—bare breasted—who knew what it felt
to gallop; who knew not the bridle’s cheek,
the smell of leather, the biting whip. O
the tail I loved, the foot unshod, the long
bone and flank, the skittish prance: mask I wore
to pick through the field at dusk: the field
also a mask, the dusk a mask, the very
ending itself: a mask.
                                     I step out
of them all like a pair of pants, briefs and socks,
all in one pile. I become the earth
I pounded, the love I breached.
                                                       No. Let me be clear.
I know now the several paths of an ending,
their rhythms, their hollows: day into night.
Wax. Wane. Wax again.
                                          This is not that.
I am but myself, near middle-aged:
a softening. Still, love, my hand. Still, my gaze
winging away from your own, a brown bird,
still, though this time, stuttering the hedge.
House sparrow, I think you’d call them, or song.