Three Horse Operas

                                                       for Patti Smith

At the end of Bing Crosby’s Riding High his horse
Will be buried in the clay of the racetrack where he fell,
As a lesson for all of us. Sad, waggish Bing,
The Mob didn’t want Broadway Bill to win, so the jockey
Pulled on the reins until the thoroughbred, straining
Over the finish line first, collapsed, heart attack.
I loved you like a guitar string breaking
Under the conviction of a clumsy hand—
Something like that . . . I suppose I must have
Been thinking of you and your complex and beautiful band,
Except the image demands I hold the guitar,
If not you, and the broken string, as
Over and over loudspeakers call riders to the starting gate.
The track bartender and a teller, a sharpshooter and the chess master
Wrestler, the petty con man and a cop, reprise their parts.
The heist gang dons clown masks, and
Sherry will betray George, and Johnny can’t love Fay,
And the fortune in the suitcase just blows away.

Robert Polito, "Three Horse Operas" from Hollywood & God. Copyright © 2009 by Robert Polito.  Reprinted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
Source: Hollywood & God (University of Chicago Press, 2009)
More Poems by Robert Polito