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In a Religion Where God is a Horse You’re 9-years-old on one of those bad weekends when your aunt and uncle shuttle you off to the racetrack at Mahoning, winking now we just won’t tell your mother when your $5 of hoarded allowance disappears through the mutuel window. It comes back so fast, fast as the horses running home, $5 and then 17 plus an ice cream cone. You could grow up to be a bettor, a horseplayer is the proper term, not that you ever realized something with play in it could be a serious thing, a job like your parents have jobs. Your uncle plays horses and pays bills. Your aunt buys horses and pays rent, whispering prayers that they win, that the purse is big enough to cover the check newly written. It all seems like a snake biting its tail, a picture you’ve seen in a book of myths your mother gave you last Christmas. A circle with no beginning or end. People hurting themselves in order to reach Heaven. A little while later, after you have not grown into a horseplayer, you realize it’s sympathetic magic. The racetrack is lousy with it. If you set a lock of hair on fire, the horse will burn. There was another picture in the book of myths, a centaur firing arrows of gold. The small people on horseback seemed to you, then, centaur-like. There was no sign of their separation from the animals, not right away, no marker of sex or gender. Jockey was a meaningless word coming from your aunt’s lips. It settled onto your head like a halo, accompanied by her lips brushing and then her hand. Later it takes on real weight, a name descending and cloaking and revealing, in perfect time with weight you shed. A pound of gravitas for every pound of flesh. Lighter and lighter, every unnecessary thing scraped off and discarded. Taunts exfoliated, slurs clipped away for burning so that no one may use your own essence against you, confusion vomited up and flushed. No more opportunities 12 | PHOEBE 49.1

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