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gift horse


daddy shook me out of bed on my birthday. still dark.

he said “I’m sorry baby” without more remark

my head bowed in halfsleep, not night but not morning

I learned the worst times always come without warning


he went first, breathed a curse, and I followed behind

in the cold air, trotted, not sure what we’d find

as the earth pushed the sun from behind the big hill

and the sky went pink while somehow staying still


we eased the gate open and left it unlatched

then daddy let the lock drop in a dirt patch

and I saw, for the first time, where we were going

and I cried, for the first time, with the grief of knowing


I fell, and he hugged me, my tears on his chest

and he said “shh” and “easy,” and I tried to do my best

then we followed a line through the pasture, grass knelt in routine

I could tell now it was longer than it should have been


we were halfway there when he stopped on the trail

I faked a smile but he looked past, face shadowed in veil

his eyes not on me, but where the two used to stand

now empty spaces in a now empty land


one by the corner where I first learned to ride

and one beneath the dogwood where their mama died

and many moments like these, lost while I was dreaming

of Christmas-time, and sleigh rides pulled by their teaming


we came to the barn now – or where it used to be

my boots pushed the black line of ash and debris

but daddy stepped up, his hands on his head

while mine hid my eyes, full of tears and pure dread


though the sun now high, I wouldn’t let myself see

what he saw in there, whatever horror that be

instead, I let my mind drift, carried by the wind

asking what I had done wrong, whether I had sinned


years gone, now grown, more than sixty birthdays passed

I still wonder if I’m wasting time, if life moves too fast

or if I should have slowed down; to dote or not to dote

on finally waking from a sad dream or brushing a horse’s coat

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