The Invention of the Horse

Kasia Van Schaik

Kasia Van Schaik is a writer and doctoral candidate in the English Department at McGill University in Montreal/Tiohtià:ke. Her work investigates the relationship between transient domestic spaces, material histories, and narrative forms in women’s writing in postwar North America. Kasia’s writing and public scholarship have appeared in Electric Literature, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Jacket2, the Best Canadian Poetry Anthology, CBC Books, and elsewhere. A recipient of the Mona Adilman Prize for ecological poetry, Kasia’s first poetry collection, Sea Burial Laws According to Country, was published in 2018. In 2021, Kasia was named a CBC QWF writer-in-residence.


The room is dark, and his eyes are dark also, hidden at the corners of his face. I tell him my name, which he forgets instantly. He’s a drowned warrior, asleep on a beach. He’s a statue in the Pergamon museum. He tells me he’s returning to Athens in the morning. Athens, city of his birth and most likely, he says, city of his death. Do I have anything to give him? An antidote? A souvenir? He asks me if I live nearby and if I have a private room.

A tiny splinter of light shines through the boarded-up windows. The place is emptying out. All of a sudden, he seems to be laughing, his mouth opening carelessly, his eyes squeezed back into his head. I can’t be certain that it is laughter.

Berlin is filled with rooms such as this one, rooms in which people dream of unzipping their lives and falling off the edge of the world. It’s a nice dream. There are dolphins and clear, high-domed waves, separating over the terrestrial curve, crashing into the hollowness of space. From this dream you wake up dry-mouthed and strangely lucid, your veins pinched clean.

I imagine leading him back to my room with its grey carpet and tiny mattress. His great barnacled chest filling the sheets. I imagine floating across the Atlantic on his chest, introducing him to my family who lives on the other side. But what would we talk about on the commute?

Have I been talking? Have I been explaining all of this to him? My mouth is as dry as if I have been swallowing sand.

He seems unnaturally tall, leaning over me now, his hand reaching for my hand. We are useless to each other if we’re not touching. He leads me past rooms filled with balloons and Victorian furniture, a blue velvet couch, a chandelier, past doorways blurred with liquid ice and the ends of conversations.

In some versions of this story, I follow him. I slip my shirt over my head, watch his gaze swim over me as if recognizing me for the first time. But there’s something hard in his eyes. I can’t really describe it except I’ve seen it in the eyes of other men. A combination of hunger and dislike.

In some versions of this story, I let him touch. He has large thick-veined hands with very soft centers.

I am floating on my back. I am buoyed up by the Gulf Stream. His hands at the edge of my face. But even in this version, there is a couch and a ceiling, a recognition of the morning pressing in on every side of the room, a recognition that the only men left are desperate and leaving for airports.

My mouth is dry, but I continue talking. I tell him about the time I went to Athens, how I walked through his city without a companion and very little money in my pockets. He isn’t listening but I keep on describing my hotel room, its single small window, which overlooked the Acropolis. A tiny room with purple curtains. I was so thankful to be alone. A man waving plastic menus outside my window. That was his job, waving menus all day and singing out their contents. Rice, Oysters, Gyros.

As I speak the room fills with water. My clothes float off my body. I feel the cool lap of his tongue on my throat.

The war god with his lidless eyes and his small triangular penis.

Achilles with his bandaged foot.

Odysseus at the mast.

We all go home to die, he says. But I do not believe him.

Even here, in this dark room, I can hear the sea. Even above the music I can hear the soft pronouncement of the waves as the warrior emerges from their depths, his eyes floating up first, then his lips, then the stern drowned face in its entirety, gazing at me from below the surface.

The blue velvet couch is ruined, sagging under our weight and under the weight of the water, now rising swiftly. The lampshades have detached from their bases. They drift towards the ceiling.

We walk in the direction of the central train station, where we part ways. He leaves for the airport, and I step onto the tram that will take me to my flat.

From the window I watch the familiar cloud-saturated sky, the sky over Berlin, which always seems to delay the morning, or at least the awareness of the morning. It presses against the grey walls and rooftops and canals of the city, tightening, closing in. And then of course there is that feeling, that question at the edge of every sentence, that insistence that resurfaces even as I bury it, even now, when I no longer live in Berlin, when I can no longer recall the name of my street.

I would not call this feeling loneliness, only a desire for something different. Or something more.

When the Sea god fell in love with the Earth, for instance, the earth asked him to create something beautiful for her, so he invented the horse. But the effort cost him so much energy that by the time he’d finished he was no longer interested in the Earth. I imagine him handing the horse over to her, the tiny perfect creature, still wobbly-kneed and speckled with foam. There is a brief exchange in which the Earth thanks him, this sad-eyed god, who now withdraws, sulking, back into the waves, into the blue vault from which he does not resurface.


Pour citer cette page

Kasia Van Schaik, « The Invention of the Horse », MuseMedusa, no 9, 2021, <https://archives.musemedusa.com:443/dossier_9/van_schaik/> (Page consultée le 03 December 2022).


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