On the twenty-fourth anniversary of the death of my sister, my mom and I went treasure hunting in Uncle Allen’s shed. We left with some old chairs in need of rejuvenation, a giant blue tricycle, rusted and flat, and the head of a plastic rocking horse with a big wooden dowel – what a kid would hold on to – still stuck through its ears. And the treasure of all treasures: a headless plastic rocking horse I pulled from beneath a stack of metal cages my mom lifted up.
I love headless things. It started with the plaster gargoyle I bought on a trip to France when I was sixteen. Its neck snapped several years later, and after trying various putties and adhesives without success, I decided to let it be broken. Aren’t a headless gargoyle and the head from a headless gargoyle better than one intact gargoyle anyway?
Then combing through the cemeteries after Katrina, I found six or seven headless madonnas. The way they are weighted, the concrete statuettes are nearly impossible to blow over. You have probably seen photographs of a trailer park decimated by a tornado, with a single concrete madonna standing tall amid the wreckage. Their necks are points of weakness, however, and forces of nature have no regard for the delicacy of their symbolism, seeing only vulnerable isthmuses. To snap a madonna’s spine in two – only God or a hurricane would be so cruel. Headless they stood in the windswept cemeteries like injured survivors of a burnt-out plague. That’s what life is all about, I think. You never know when something will sever your neck or lop your head off, but you keep going if you can, you keep standing, even if you are broken and headless.
I’m not sure how the rocking horse met its end. Did it lose its head before or after it was discarded? My mom wondered why it wasn’t just thrown away. Surely without a head to hold on to it was no longer safe to ride. Maybe even headless rocking horses are not without some value. Broken can still be good.
When we got home, my mom brought down my old rocking horse – head intact, springs in place – from the playroom-turned-storage upstairs. My great-nephew Parker took that horse for a spin while I made three paper butterflies to hang in a cloud of life where the head of the other horse used to be.