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
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.
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.
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
and scratching their backs.
We watch each other,
three horses, the fireflies, and me.
The crickets peep.
bow over the frozen pond
while frogs sleep beneath.
An abandoned brick shed
casts a shadow
in the green woods.
A widow wears her mourning veil.
Clouds pass by
A full moon.
Above the rose gray mare
slips the rose gray moon.
Fireflies wink. God’s eyes.
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
They let me be with them
one with them.
She walks toward me
She eats the apple
I brought her
She walks with me
to the barn
She doesn’t have to
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