there was the first horse
and then the last;
the scheme of horses in between
is immaterial (to say they were muscle
is being kind, they were meat)
but the first horse was the horsehead—
high angular white bones
and sinew—and the great matter of him broke meaning open
like a disclosure, and there, where he lived, lay the river of the canyon,
all white-tipped like a righteous migration of spines,
and he stilled the water by his will alone
to better see the startling symmetry of his reflection,
his charge moving him
somehow faster than the breath’s steady luggage,
across the neckline of the field,
and up and over sugar cane, always
toward starvation: for as terrifying as it is,
forever is a solid,
and from that firstfoal followed his blood
like the flood that begins at the mount
and streams and cheats and even seems to grow
by rain that falls by the torso
but loses itself through the corn husks
and understory until it is thinner
than the water that comes from a wound
and it settles in the ditch of a cul-de-sac, at rest as a lie.
Copyright © 2019 by Keith S. Wilson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 13, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Hours before dark, I follow the stony path
from the parking lot to the river bank.
Along the shore I look for crushed branches and trampled grass,
the clearing where wild horses are said to appear.
Then, I hide behind a mesquite tree, hold my breath.
I want to know their secrets.
Finally the mares and foals emerge from the woods
and stand, ankle deep, among the dense reeds.
At once the entire herd bows their heads,
laps the cool water, takes the river into themselves.
If I were brave, if I’d forget
to move past the brokenness of my own family,
I’d approach these unclaimed, unnamed creatures.
I’d stroke their brown manes,
feed them sugar apples and snow peas.
We’d share one fearless story.
Now the Mustangs dig their feet under the tall grass.
I step forward, snap a few pictures,
as if the camera could capture
when my unsettled heart and theirs became one.
Overhead, the whir of helicopter blades
cuts through a questioning sky.
Suddenly there’s a thousand echoes,
galloping hooves ringing over badlands.
I turn and look back to the river
which flows on, relentlessly, carrying with it
every story of who or what has come and gone.
And the sun sets, dropping behind the mountain,
leaving a blue ridge, a dimming thread of gold.
I get into my car, head up switchbacks
that lead me to the open highway and down towards the city
where lights shimmer like the past of distant stars.
Copyright © 2022 by Lois Roma-Deeley. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 7, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
You said you had lunch in Pittsfield, was it on North Street?
That reminds me of when we lived on the farm.
It must be eighty years ago.
We went to a one-room schoolhouse, didn’t you drive past it once?
Each row was a different grade.
I sat in the first seat of the first row.
The teacher’s name was Miss Brown.
She was so pretty.
I wonder if she’s still alive.
The day before we left the farm our cat disappeared.
We couldn’t find her anywhere.
I was sad for weeks.
Three months later she showed up at our new house in Pittsfield.
I can’t think of the number now.
My sister was in New York.
She didn’t like the people she was living with so she’d visit us.
She fell in love with the young man who lived next door.
Your uncle Maurice.
They got married and moved to Cleveland.
They’re both gone now, aren’t they?
You know, I can’t picture her.
A few years later we moved to New York.
This just jumped into my mind: I must have been three years old.
We were still in Russia.
A small town, but famous for its yeshiva.
My oldest brother—Joe—took our horses down to the river.
They were the two best horses in the town.
My father had a phaeton.
A beautiful old buggy.
He was like a taxi driver, he took people to Minsk.
That day he was at the station.
The passenger station, waiting for customers.
My brother was still just a kid.
He must have been washing the horses in the river.
I can remember—it was a hot day.
Maybe he was giving them a drink.
And while I was watching the reins got caught around a pole in the river.
The horses kept twisting the reins around that pole.
It was slippery, the reins kept sliding down under the water and they were pulling the horses down with them.
I ran into town and got my father who came running back with a knife in his teeth.
He jumped into the river with all his clothes on.
He took the knife and sawed away at the reins until he finally cut through.
He saved the horses.
I haven’t thought about this in a thousand years.
It’s like a dream: you get up it’s forgotten.
Then it all comes back.
Didn’t I ever tell you?
Look at me, I’m starting to cry.
What’s there to cry about?
Such an old, old memory, why should it make me cry?
This poem was first published in Slate (1997) and was reprinted in Cairo Traffic (University of Chicago Press, 2000) and Who’s on First? New and Selected Poems (University of Chicago Press, 2021).