The Rocking Horse Also-Ran

They had wanted children for years, trailing off into nearly decades,

And had, almost jokingly at first but all but grimly later on,

Bought any number of children’s toys–dolls and plastic soldiers,

Baseball bats and tea sets, footballs and fancy dresses–and one brother-in-law

Saw fit, though it was never apparent if through sympathy or sheer malice,

To give them one such toy each anniversary, including (on what he termed

Their lucky thirteenth) a plastic, hideously leering rocking horse,

Miniature approximation of some merry-go-round phantasm

Whose springs creaked shrilly, almost desperately–not unlike the manner

Their own bedsprings wailed in the frantic, forlorn pursuit of child-bearing.


That year, there was a son, and, as with all children,

There were toys that were ignored, others played with once or twice

To then be discarded without afterthought,

Still others enjoyed for weeks or even months at a stretch;

And then there was the rocking horse.

Indeed, boy and horse were nearly inseparable,

Even well after he had entered school,

Having reached a point where he was too old and too large for the toy,

He would not hear of giving it up, the one or two semi-forcible attempts

To take it away engendering reaction bordering on the violent,

And, anyway, the school psychologist had reasoned

That it was more something to be watched than worried about,

But when he rode the toy, hunched oddly,

Twined about it like an uncomfortable ivy,

He would narrate actual races–not epic deeds,

No grand recounts of the Secretariats or Man O’ Wars

Riding to great victories at Churchill Downs or Saratoga;

Invariably, the horse in question would run nobly, gamely,

But finish somewhere in the middle of the pack,

Perhaps third if he was feeling inordinately giddy,

But never a win, never a great yoke of roses or carnations

Hanging around the steed’s neck.


Eventually, as with all things childish, this all passed,

(Though the horse remained in his room as long as he did)

And the boy went on to a middling college, a solid job, a happy family.

The toys begotten of so many unrewarded years and unanswered hopes

Found their way into any number of Salvation Army donations

And garage sales, though at one of those

A young woman had eyed and picked up the horse,

But his mother had walked over and said,

As she more or less gently wrested the toy away,

I’m sorry, but we’re saving that for someone.







3 thoughts on “The Rocking Horse Also-Ran

  1. Well, you know I love horses and am an enthusiastic racing fan, having read every horse story ever written, so your title drew me in. I was hoping you were not going down the James Joyce road of rocking horses.

    I’m confused by the last stanza (must be me) and have read it three times.

    Did you mean “her mother” or “his mother”?

  2. I had hoped the idea that it was the boy’s mother who was border-collie-ing the garage sale would come through, but I confess that stanza is a bit murky.

  3. OK. With the her changed to his, the stanza works as you had hoped.
    So the mother, overprotective and probably part of his problem is still “at it.”

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