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Franz Marc, "Horse in a landscape," 1910. (Via Wikiart)

Franz Marc, "Horse in a landscape," 1910. (Via Wikiart)

BLOG— ‘Somewhere outside, the horse’

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Reader, this is grisly.

But beautiful, in its way.

A squirrel lay freshly dead in the road in front of my house this morning. Its fur was dark with rain. It lay on its side, one ear to the street. Listening for the world’s deep heartbeat, perhaps. Listening past the world’s noise for the deepest heartbeat we have — the throb of stillness we come from and return to.

I thought of the squirrel as I walked on to work, then forgot it for the rest of the day. When I walked home, I passed it again. A very different squirrel. It had been shorn clean, like a car stripped by thieves. My husband had seen the thieves — crows hunched on our fence in the rain. Like everyone else, those black birds must eat. Who are we to criticize their fare?

The squirrel was a partial, white, torn thing when I saw it the second time. I was shocked, and intrigued. When we die, we become food. We die in order to become food. There is no plainer truth than that.

And it’s a beautiful truth, actually, though we close our eyes to it constantly. Beautiful because death is the great connector, the thread that runs through every big and little life. As humans, we share the common fate.

I try, often without success, to hold in mind two perspectives, the cosmic and the personal. From a cosmic stance, my little griefs and triumphs don’t exist. Don’t exist! I am, you are, dust. From the personal position, though, my life and the lives of those I love carry great weight. They are my whole world.

Both perspectives are true. I am nothing, I am all. They’re not contradictions, really, just different levels of reality. And when we die, we trade the personal reality for the cosmic one. Our thick, rich, varied, solid and solemn lives flow into the one life. Everybody’s there! It’s a cosmic dance party. The dance floor is packed. Nobody’s sitting down.

Halloween’s coming up, a celebration of the truths we squint at the rest of the year. It’s an attempt to gain mastery over what, in fact, masters us. We scare each other in the dark, and laugh about it. But I think we find each other a little bit, too. In the common dark.

I knew that, somewhere outside, the horse
Stood saddled, browsing in the grass,
Waiting for me.

—From “A Dream of Burial,” by James Wright


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