i.m. Jean McCleary
Picture a few horses waiting
in a misty country paddock
sometime just before dawn,
as they shuffle and shiver
in the morning air’s coolness.
Here comes a small girl creeping
from the sleeping farmhouse,
dark curls, bright eyes, slipping
over the desiccated Mallee dirt,
my mother’s mother, age nine.
Is it true that girls love horses
for the myth of noble strength
bowing to an innocent caress?
Was that in her mind, scanning
the arrivals from the auction?
What did she believe, reaching
out her gentle hand to touch
the dusty old stallion standing
lame, a broken-down workhorse,
unloved and ready for the end?
He was thin as thin she said,
with his long grey hair falling,
hanging over head and eyes,
and nobody had touched him
with a brush or comb for years.
So as the light fills the fields
she grooms the horse, his face
and mane, front legs and belly,
stationary as a rock; then onto
his hocks as he shifts his feet.
She makes his sad sagging frame
handsome once more, almost
fit for an equestrienne, loving
the unfortunate animal, not
for what he was but might be.
A simple romance of creature
and child, the horse sensing
the tenderness of her regard
in the care of her movements,
and the murmur of her voice.
But all at once her brother’s there
and she’s grabbed and thrown
over the fence, away from harm.
The nag’s dangerous, a man-killer,
he declares, only good for bones.
In a lifetime since then she’s never
forgotten, and though the horse
is dead and gone it makes her think,
knowing she loved him, and hoping
her love can overcome even this:
for of such is the kingdom of heaven.