In Spite of “Blue Mustang”

by Afton Montgomery

Mom was pregnant with me when the Chuck E. Cheese murder happened
down the street and when “Blue Mustang” was commissioned
to whinny in fiberglass at the center of Peña Boulevard by the Denver airport.
The horse is the sort of blue the Rockies turn early in the morning
when there’s still snow in the high country, and you’ve hit thirteen thousand feet
by six, with red-bulbed eyes that switch on at night.

In the years around when the century turned over, Grandma covered
every murder for The Denver Post, except the one when the horse’s head fell,
killing the sculptor Luis Jiménez, who’d brought the animal to its feet.
I still always imagine the cobalt front hoofs will come down, loosing
the horse’s mane from the stiffness the Eastern Plains winds demand
of something that aims to stay in place there. Grandma died

the same year by falling tree limb, when the snow came in October.
Too early for lightness, and the Post printed a picture she would’ve
hated, but her blonde head was, by then, a new shape in death,
too round for eye bags to make any difference. Blucifer
is what everyone called the horse from then on, which is a word I hear
in Grandma Ginny’s voice—the kind of lie against time I allow memory.

We took her ash to the crab apple trees to meet the dust of the Airedales,
John Wayne and Free, who went before. Coyote Ugly
is what all the dead people in my family would call the nine thousand pounds
of horsey blue, the ambulance red lights unblinking, to beckon us home
or send us off in planes, with a warning. Jiménez’s loved ones finished
the body that took his, but Grandma’s friends demanded the city come

and woodchip her favorite cottonwood to shards as punishment
for what it had done—a death never reported in the paper, at least not by her.

Afton Montgomery earned her MFA in nonfiction at the University of Idaho, where she was the editor in chief of Fugue. She was a finalist for the 2023 Harvard Review Chapbook Prize and was selected by Vi Khi Nao as the prose winner of the 2021 Mountain West Writers’ Contest at Western Humanities Review. Afton has recent or forthcoming work in New South, Pleiades, The Common, Passages North, DIAGRAM, Poetry Northwest, Prairie Schooner, Fence, and others. Formerly the frontlist buyer at Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver, she calls Colorado home.