It was speed she learned
when I meant the lesson as fearlessness.
Don't be afraid, I said.
But she heard: faster, faster.
In water deep enough for drowning,
I trained twenty pounds of child.
Here's my hand, I said, close enough to touch.
But she said: let me go
and dove breathless, smiling, open-eyed,
time after time
into water pure as tears.
On the bare back of chestnut pony,
the long lead taut from halter to hand,
she rode like a princess, a pardner, Apache.
Once, spooked, the pony reared
and slid her to the ground
as if she weren't my daughter, my only child,
just four years old.
Mounted again—for this is the rule
after a spill—
she begged for a canter,
but I said walk.
I cinched the lead
into my palm
as if I could
with my own will
suspended her every future fall.
The radio flyer was safe.
Seated between my legs,
reclaimed by the lap she'd left squalling, red-faced,
she'd be bound by my speed,
my feet the brakes
dragging us to sober slowness.
We'd climb to the top of our hill,
park and load,
and scream until we reached the bottom
where the gravel dipped beneath the oaks.
The wind stopped only when the wagon did.
I'd drag my feet and she'd say no:
faster, Mama, faster.
Because she was safe
against my breast
and our voices pitched themselves
into the sky, soaring like
birds, like souls above fear,
I said yes, this time, with me: faster.
There would come a day
when I wasn't there
with my cautious hands
in the water,
on the lead,
my heavy feet on the graveled ground.
There would come a day when
she rode the radio flyer
without brakes, a single voice
On that day, alone,
the last ride,
she pulled the wagon up from hell:
gravel bedded in her knees,
her palms bloodied by barbed wire
until she reached my lap.
Now, too late, I say once more:
ride the brakes.
Now, too late,
she says again:
Anna Tuttle Villegas