from John McCarthy, Scared Violent Like Horses
but I’m the yellow humming
of a corner store doorway. I dismount the horse,
and the empty parking lot watches.
Dark garbage stuffs the horse’s stomach—
cigarette wrappers, plastic pop bottles, wet receipts,
and I scrape out its empty body. It feels like biting the tongs of a fork
when my nails scrape its metal cast.
There are dead insects, too, and I feel like dead insects.
In “North End I,” a child sits atop a mechanical horse outside the grocery store where his grandmother has gone to buy lottery tickets. McCarthy’s poem immerses the reader in the sensual imagination of a child’s mind, a young boy who claims all that his mind encounters: the light, the carousel horse, the insects. It is an imagination that personifies, and even the parking lot gives its attention to the child, can see. But the moment also reveals the speaker’s loneliness, how much the child wants to be seen and wants someone to pay attention.
McCarthy’s speaker uses his senses to look, listen, touch, take inventory, but also to revise and redefine himself. “I’m the yellow humming” and “I feel like dead insects”—but what does thatfeel like? Immovable, small, silent, incapable of stinging, flightless . . . ? The child feels like something of little worth, with no life, or individual identity. Though he is imaginative, curious, makes comparisons, and sees the connections between a metal fork and the metal womb of a carousel horse, no one he loves is there to pay attention, not his mother, he tells us, and not his grandmother. How can readers not want to comfort this small speaker or fail to understand his longing:
and I think of the horse’s caverned body,
how comfortable it would be to live inside.
John McCarthy, Scared Violent Like Horses, Milkweed Editions, 2019