Over centuries, oxidized to the greeny-white
Patina of a strange fungus. Airborne
Paradox of function, racing
Windborne in each of the directions
Mapped by geography.
Neighing on a barn roof
With approaching storm or standing
Quietly, a stabled nag below
Calm lofts of sky
Inscribed by swallows.
Upon a plaqued base
With provenance displayed,
It is too valuable for weather
To turn its once burnished head.
The scrolled mane, shod hooves stretched
In an implausible arc of gait.
Who’d pay ten grand for this, I wonder,
Considering the farmer who installed it
On his ridgeline. His bones greeny white
Beneath a stone provenance
Bookending his worth between the dates
Of acquisition and dispersal.
Stirring the silence of this morning,
A car-struck cat wails, struggling
To drag its broken torso to my feet,
Hauling its dying through the drought-
Stricken blossoms rusting along the fenceline.
The raw whiskey of sorrow
Floods in a mouthful of awful
Choice: to walk away with a piteous
Crying at my footsteps or to act
With no good outcome.
I lift the limp body into the carrier.
Is this belligerent: this journey to extinction
Or merciful. Whose welfare is at stake:
Pure animal suffering or my wish
Not to hear it, not to deal with what
Can be past bearing as if the fate
Of the least creature could be,
Must be, sacred.
What We Could Learn
In the lens of particulars
Here’s what can happen. Ice
Gives way to its liquid spirit
As the wind switches. And when
The dog howls it’s not at nothing
So take heed. The mustangs running
In the mountain pass know something
Of predation, how to flee.
We could learn absence from their hoofprints
Or trace the spell a leaf’s
Skeleton can imitate in our
Palms. We could lift up
Our children into the mercy
Of kindness. We could reach
The edge of the arroyo and resist
The leap of judgment
That saddles us with default.
JOAN COLBY‘s most recent collection is Dead Horses, published by Future Cycle Press, and her Selected Poems is due out later this year, also from Future Cycle Press. She has been the editor of Illinois Racing News (a monthly publication for the Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Foundation) for over 25 years. In addition to seven previous poetry collections, her work has appeared in Poetry, Portland Review, South Dakota Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, New York Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, and Western Humanities Review, among others.