“A Question About Horses” by Lisa Lewis

Lisa Lewis


Last year, the year before—hard times. I leave my two mares on pasture
               while I think things through.
I pay the board, the horses graze, they stand in the sun, flicking flies away
               with their long tails.
They saunter to the water trough and swallow long draughts, their lips
               almost closed beneath the surface.
Sometimes I imagine the end of the world, and the horses and I are destroyed
               together, under deep water,
the mares’ strong legs pumping towards distant shore that melts where our
               graves might lie side by side, if only the rains would dry.

I don’t talk about my disagreement with the ideas I’ve read about horses and
               why they let us ride them.
So today when I walk into the autumn hayfield to check Jeanie’s shoes, I
               know when she follows me back to the barn
there’s no use telling anybody. Some of the wealthy young women from the
               college have driven out for the afternoon, as usual.
They can’t be expected to understand why I’ve stayed away through months
               of warm weather.
They ride under the dome of sky that purples like flagstone until the clouds
               blow curved upstream.
They have nothing to say to me either. I tie Jeanie and fetch my saddle and
She turns her face toward me as far as the rope allows. I think I know what
               she means, but maybe she only wants hay.
I lead her outside and crawl up clumsy in my tight pants. It’s late afternoon
               so I watch our shadow
pacing circles comical as balloons in all seriousness. I reject science for
               informing me the mare can’t reach through her spine
and clasp me to her solid as a planet that spins in place. When I lead her back
               to the barn I know she is lonely without me.
She eats her grain and watches me from one white-ringed eye. She means to
               remind me of the beauties of multiple moons.
She says I should take my best guess about the music of the spheres.

I drive home worrying she’s too tired and will become ill. All evening I look
               up horse diseases in veterinary books.
I think of the the other mare, still neglected, and how everyone I know is
               afraid of her. I try to remember how it feels to ride her
and how she breathes on my hand through the wire when I visit her pen to
               say good night and promise to return.
The fear of the mares’ death is the fear of my own death except worse. If the
               horses die, my negligence
bearing down on them like a blizzard, their own will impervious to my
               wishes and yearning,
same as their hooves rush through heaps of dry clay as they gallop for mock
               terror at the glint of some window or hay rake,
they will be nothing but runaways and I a skeleton in skin. It will be almost
               as if I could cling with my fists
to their knotted manes and ride into the nether world. Don’t they love me?
               Don’t they feed from the bucket of my hands?
Doesn’t the smell of their hair matted thicker for the winter we may not
               survive bind to my blood so after we have stood together
like the profiles of leafless trees we have more in common than leather and

I am at home, and they are where they are, sleeping standing up or lying
They bend at the knee, and the hooves curl beneath. I imagine them as if they
               were apples in an orchard,
russet darkened to the modest shade of reflected light. When I was a girl I
               wanted to make my room in a stable,
bedded in confetti of shavings or the crunch of straw. I knew I would protect
               the horses from night fears
as they protected me from the future life I couldn’t guess. I could hear their
               placid noises, resting as animals rest,
their dreams stealing hours from the present, poised above roofs and cupolas
               like weathervanes.
The difference between us now is the way I feel time passing, ripe enough to
               fill the nights of two years
with its odor like glass, which has no material odor, which I only claim to
               turn the question away from the horses
and how they couldn’t save me as I once believed but instead could be turned
               against me by humans made clever by cruelty and loss.
For whatever peace is had in abstraction, the peace of gods, I turn the
               question to the impossible
again, science transparency, ice vibrating inside its solid form like the chest of
               a mare
warm from a winter ride when you stroke it with the back of your hand.

from Rattle #30, Winter 2008
Tribute to Cowboy & Western Poetry

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