Horn – by Emma Neale

The boys in the park
outside my son’s first Kung Fu class
boot a football about
with voices that wheeze like glitchy doorbells;
rusted harmonicas soaked in flaming Sambuca;
electric buzzers for you lose on quiz shows;
old coffee grinders stuck on ‘wake up and smell the;

They quack and bark fuck and cunt
relentless as roosters on sunrise crack
while they hurl around a girl’s name
as if it too is made of fake leather,
pumped with giddy, glassy air,
but which, when they aim it, just won’t go there:
it zips skyward at crazy angles,
bounds off the goal posts, races into traffic;

the very fact of her, somewhere in the world,
makes them bellow like the baby bull, chained to a fence,
that kept us awake all night through altitude headaches
in Nepal, its hollow midnight groans enough to make
my young husband vow that in the morning,
he’d give up vegetarianism for good —

though he never did — and when I remember
how he couldn’t quit his own essential gentleness,
though I grit my ears’ tiny watch-work bones
against their honk, and cuss, and drone  —
it softens me to these nearly-men, who must suffer
in their own raw joints, their straining skins,
a little like that poor calf did,

lashed to a stake, iron ring through its nose
black as mushroom gills, velvet as Diwali marigolds,
with the tight, cramped zing of unborn joy in its ball sack,
the low, clotted moan jammed in its throat
a half moon lump of sour milk, hard as a hoof;
that young animal at once striving for speech,
and flailing from it
yet in that urgent captive
battered trombone bray
articulating so much
of what our bodies
go on wanting
and wanting to say.

Emma NealeEmma Neale is a New Zealand-based writer and editor, grateful for the chance to make an international submission. She has had six books of poetry and six novels published in her home country, and recently her first book of short stories, The Pink Jumpsuit, was long listed in their national fiction awards.