by Kathryn Kirkpatrick
My neighbor saw him jump
the fence in thunder,
leave the pasture for the road,
then back again, a flight
across boundaries as lightning
struck, and the rain came down,
as it does these days, urgent, torrential.
Struck by lightning, the oncologist said
that year I lost my breast to cancer
and I took to the neighborhood trails
as if I could walk off the earth itself,
walk through the valley of the shadow
into another country, walk because
my life depended on it, ceremony
of one foot in front of the other.
The tiny barn beside the road,
the hay, and no one, no one
that I saw, although a hidden hand
brought oats, the hay itself.
Each day he grazed the meager grass
of not-yet-spring, and we stepped,
one hoof, one foot, into the conversation
we’d neither of us had, as if horses and
humans had never spoken until we spoke.
He gave me a coltish welcome
once he knew I’d come most every afternoon,
any absence of that give-and-take, and a tug
of longing appeared, unaccountably, as if
a bond grew, more robust than was necessarily
wise. Or was it me so newly shorn of the other life
I wasn’t sure how much love might break me?
We never thought saddles, but as if I
held the golden bridle, he came
of his own accord to the ritual of giving,
nosing my coat and pockets, twice nipping
the back of my hand when I withheld
what he knew I’d brought but was slow to give.
He taught me to offer an apple, not whole
but quartered and cored, no bitter seeds
between us. And then his muzzle
at my neck and ear.
Peg. We could say I was your gorgon,
and Perseus held the surgeon’s knife,
but that’s not how I’m telling the story.
And you, no thoroughbred, are safe
from our current Bellerophons who’d buy
you in quarters, pump you with steroids,
and race you so hard, so young
your forelegs would fracture
like the S through the staves
of a dollar sign.
Call me your Amazon, both of us
between worlds, those months
holding out, holding on,
apple a day before grass grew
green and lush and whoever thought
lie owned you took you to another
field, but not before I dreamed you
crossed the threshold of my body,
saw what you saw, the winged
expanse, the fearsome flash.
How am I to know
if it was me leaving each day
by the same turning up the lane
as you watched, once even rushing
the fence as if you’d rather not part,
how am I to know if, when lightning
struck, you leapt toward more of what
we’d made, sanctuary
on the mountain, splitting the earth
open with one hoof, then another,
leaving not a feather behind
but green dung in the road
the sign of a living, breathing horse
who means to find me?