A Suite of Horse Poems

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I Want to Show You

I want to show you

the Mississippi in the October light

the monarch butterflies

turning the goldenrod bronze

the apple trees in the back yard

dappled in sunlight

the baby angelfish on the swordtail plant

pappa catching them when they tumble off

and spitting them back two or three at a time

my horse prancing in the glow of the low-set sun

Sadie Cummings

She snorted and pranced

when her hooves touched the sand

and we’re off

with me in a two-point

and her in full gallop

through shallow water

the spray salting my face

the two of us in raucous rhythm.

We would have gone on forever.

The rocks at the seawall forced a halt.

She died at the track

put down after she broke her leg trying.

Complex Castration

It’s possible to pull a horse’s muzzle out,

catch it on a loop of chain attached to a pole,

turn until the teeth show,

until the horse twists,

until the horse falls to the floor.

Then it’s possible for three strong men

to hold his hind legs

while the vet cuts the scrotum

and removes the balls.

It’s also possible that the horse will fight

and thrash until the vet says,

Loosen the chain.

Let him up, boys,

when there is one more ball left

to cut out.

John Boy fought like that

for his one last ball.

Until he was two, I never knew

whether to call him a stud or a gelding.

He had the gelding’s habit

of hanging his shaft loose as a sausage,

but he had the fire in the eye

of a stallion.

In his third summer,

I watched him tear grass close to the roots.

He looked so content,

I chewed some grass myself.

Tommy didn’t see me

as he whacked John Boy

on the loose-hanging penis.

I wondered if that would affect his fertility.

Then I knew it didn’t matter.

The vet was coming for the other ball.

This time he knocked John out with a shot to his neck,

recut the scrotum,

inserted blunt, serrated scissors

that crunched as they crushed the spermatic cord.

He reached in and grabbed.

He held the dripping mass high in the air,

then threw it in a basket

of straw and broken manure balls.

The basket and ball stayed there for days.

A crust formed.

Then, a German Shepherd wolfed it down.

He licked his teeth and muzzle.

It seemed to have been a tasty morsel.

Apple Tree

The apple tree stood next to the stone wall

that enclosed the field of thirty acres

where roamed and grazed thirty horses

who dozed under the tree as a shield

against the high summer sun so much

they wore away the grass and created dust

in which they rolled to scratch their backs.

From their backs I counted the miles

by adding the number of times

I passed the tree

on the quarter-mile track around the field.

I wonder now if the tree is still there,

the sun burning its leaves silver in summer

and its apples red in the fall.

I wonder if the apples drop off the tree

and mimic the horse droppings

ignored as the apples

that the horses never ate.

I wonder if the bark is still rough and dark

as if decades of rain had worn wandering rives.

I wonder if the tree still opens its branches

like Hercules proclaiming joy in his strength.

I wonder if those arms that embrace the sky

still give me a place to sit and watch

thirty horses on thirty acres

feeding, frolicking,

and scratching their backs.

Suite

I

We watch each other,

three horses, the fireflies, and me.

The crickets peep.

II

The rhododendron

bow over the frozen pond

while frogs sleep beneath.

III

An abandoned brick shed

casts a shadow

in the green woods.

IV

A widow wears her mourning veil.

Clouds pass by

A full moon.

V

Above the rose gray mare

slips the rose gray moon.

Fireflies wink. God’s eyes.

To Ellie

When you spook

and I land hard on the ground

when you stop short from a canter

and I fall on your neck

when you lift your head out of reach

as I trim your forelock

Let’s remember the times when

I think left

and you go that way

when I ask for a canter

and you give it

when I touch your brow

and you lower your head

when we’re in the woods

and the sunlight dapples the green leaves

as you step daintily over a wooden bridge

Full Moon with Horses

Horses in the moonlight

still night air

breathing gently

swishing tails.

Silence.

They let me be with them

one with them.

The Gift

She walks toward me

head bobbing

She eats the apple

I brought her

She walks with me

to the barn

She doesn’t have to

Minnesota Spring

The first ride of spring

after a Minnesota winter

plum trees in bloom

pussy willows budded out

the egret wading in inky swamp water

The frogs make so much noise

we can’t hear the sound of the horses’ feet

Maxine Kumin Makes Me Cry

Maxine, you made me cry twice.

The first time was at Bread Loaf

in the Green Mountains of Vermont thirty years ago

when I was a smart-mouthed social worker

bluffing my way into the land of the living

after descending into hell with my clients.

Your words knocked at the doors of my heart,

then blasted them to bits

I was left dazed and disorientated,

wandering over the athletic field

crying out the long years of sorrow

leaving me naked with the beauty around me,

there all the while

Groundhogs, horses, beans, old men

pulverized me until I erupted into song and sorrow.

I haven’t stopped singing or crying since.

The second time I cried on your account

was today when I read your memoir

of your horse-driving accident.

Dude bolted and that was not all you wrote

but close all the same,

Dude, the son of your Arab mare.

You came back to life

broken into bits

held in a cage called a halo

that actually befits how you fit in my life,

the halo, I mean, not the cage.

You healed yourself

as your words reformed me so long ago and now.

No God for you,

but into the arms of family and strangers,

belief in beans and broccoli,

and I was not there.

I am now, with you, that is,

as I tack up Finn, the son of my own Arab mare,

a bright red chestnut with a blaze

who bolted into me once, knocked me down,

but stopped and showed sorrow in his eyes.

I drive him around the arena on long lines

and think of you and Dude.

If there is a heaven, let it be

a horseback ride in the spring

when the plum trees are in bloom

and the chirps of tiny frogs hurt our ears.

Jane Gilgun lives in Minnesota, USA. She has two horses, Padrone’s Elegante (Ellie) and her son Finn MacCool. These poems are from I Want to Show You: A Memoir in Poems, available at http://www.lulu.com/content/2350136

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