While playing cribbage the other day,
my brother reminded me of when our father
took us to Claiborne Farms in Kentucky
to see Secretariat, how he pointed to the horse
standing thirty yards away in a pasture, alone, nibbling grass,
amazed the grand champion would simply be grazing in the open.
No other horses or people were around, just the quiet dew
rising on the morning, the slow rumble of our green Impala.
As we leaned against the car, Secretariat bolted to the fence
but my father forbade us from approaching.
He was in retirement. I don't remember any of this
I told my brother, forgotten memories, like things I never knew,
such as ancient Babylonian culture or math.
Secretariat was strong, running wildly up and down the fence
for our attention, showing off his vigor and agility,
wanting only a few apples to sweeten his morning.
My father talked about his Triple Crown,
and I'm sure I couldn't have cared less. And then,
the car ride to Pennsylvania, how irritated
my father was that I ran down the slope of brush grass
to Secretariat, ignoring his yelling, the calling of my name.
I rubbed Secretariat's muzzle, scratched behind his ears,
thudded my hand on his thick neck then fed him
a Milky Way bar. I don't remember any of this,
only what my brother has told me, but I'm certain
Secretariat loved the creamy nougat and caramel,
how I crawled under the fence and rode him bareback
for a few hundred yards, one last cantor to the winner's circle.
William Walsh's work has appeared in Five Points, Georgia Review, Kenyon Review, North American Review, Rattle, and elsewhere. His most recent book is Lost In the White Ruins. He is the director of the Etowah Valley MFA program.
"Visiting Secretariat in 1974" first appeared in the Valparaiso Poetry Review & is reprinted with the permission of the author.