Yesterday I was grazing and cruising the heifers in clover. This morning I stand at the edge of the bull ring in sawdust and bullshit and sand, listening to music to salute an armada, triumphant strains for a dusty empire from trumpeters sniffing for blood. Whatever we were bred for, it can’t have been this. The matador spends his whole life rehearsing for his small part. Is it too much to ask for one short run-through for the bulls before our debut? They haven’t given us time to adjust to the stench of the city, the roar of the crowd. How can we carry the weight of tradition if we don’t know our steps? The matadors dress like conquistadors at a costume party. They tread this circle of dirt like their New World. I smell the battle horses in the pen. I see the spears. I understand the pageantry of a Sunday spectacle, for children with their ices and actors bowing in hats and capes, their buttocks plump targets in velvet. The trumpet sounds. The gate swings open. Enter the bull, snorting from the bullpen, blue-black in the merciless sun, my tongue a red flag of warning, otherwise naked confusion and fear. Very well, then, I’ll play it naked. If they look away, they’ll miss the show; if they look too long, I’ll blind them. The picadors stab my neck; the bandilleras plant their barbed sticks in my flanks. It’s meant to enrage me, to make a good show, but they’ve gone too far. I’ll never stand. The matador with his phony sword is fighting time. If I learn his maneuvers, he’s gored. Something between my shoulder blades is feeling for my heart. I appeal to the crowd and they see in my eyes this all seems very real.

Copyright © July 23, 2007 David Hodges