The first version of the poem is almost there. But you can see that I am still focusing on the facts of the poem. The poem is based on a true story. My mother was a caretaker for a 40-acre horse ranch in Sonoma, California where she primarily cared for retired police horses. All of her stories of the horses were amazing. Their journeys. How they came to the ranch. Some young. Some old. In the first poem I am really trying to get the facts right, the narrative. In the second version, I've realized that it's not about this little kindness, it's about being released, it's about being forgiven. The horse accidentally killed a man. Still, he gets to live out his long years with his rider on a ranch in Montana. And shouldn't he? In the second and final version, I've teased out that truth for myself which strengthens the ending and really gives the whole poem a new backbone.
The other part of the revision process for me, is that in the second version, and really all my revisions, I am revising for sound, for lyricism, and musicality, rhythm. The first version was published very quickly after I had written it. I probably sent it off a little too soon after someone requested poems. But the second version has an ear to it; it has a strong rhythm. The first one is so much (too much) information quickly, while the second takes its time and lets the poem do the slow work of sound and beauty as well as a narrative. I am so much happier with the final version primarily because I believe that's how the poem should be, a poem about forgiveness, not simply about loving live things, not only about kindness. But also, I am just much happier with the sound and structure of the poem. It has a tension and friction and power that the first version doesn't quite have yet. Oh, what a gift time is. A clearer eye, a more attuned ear, all of these things come so much more easily after a little time has passed. But, like the poem insists, I will forgive my past selves and be only the good horse of the now.
Photo credit: Lucas Marquardt
< draft >
The Story of a Horse
My ma’s in the wind-pushed double wide, waiting
for the retired police men to bring their retired police horses
to the ranch. She’s laughing about how they can’t figure
out which way the gate swings, the swinging shocks them.
She’s at the window now describing the rain, the two-horse
trailer, and also, how sometimes she and my stepdad
talk about death for a long time. How talking about death
makes it easier to live and I agree and say, “It’s called die,
before you die.” What is being delivered here is a horse
whose life has been difficult. A large quarter horse named
Seattle, a horse with a city name, who kept watch in a city,
who got spooked outside the baseball stadium when a bag
wrapped itself around its foot, a plastic thing versus
a big animal in a big crowd and a quick accident killed
a man. Then, what for the horse? Never to be ridden, stuck
in a stall, full of ramped up energy, lightning bugs in the blood.
He might have wanted to, “Die before he died.” But not
yet. What is being delivered here is a horse, a horse forgiven.
A horse loved by his rider, a horse loved is a difficult thing
not to ride. Today, the rider is retired, a badge on the dashboard,
and a fine plan to drive all the way to Montana, where the rider
has bought a ranch. The rider, and his loved horse,
are going all the way to Montana and they’re going to live
out their days together, out of the city life. The horse,
with his city-name, and his forgiven city-mistakes, are going
north for a long drive and it makes me and Ma happy.
How good it is to love live things, how forgiving
fills that impossible need, how some little love
can make a whole life worth living a little while longer.
< REVISION >
the long ride
Ma’s in the wind-pummeled double-wide
waiting for the retired policemen
to bring their retired police horses
to the ranch. She’s at the window now
describing the rain, the two-horse trailer,
and also, how sometimes she and my stepdad
talk about death for a long time.
How imagining death can make it easier
to live and I agree and say, It’s called die
before you die. What is being delivered
here is a horse who’s had a hard life.
A large quarter horse named Seattle --
a horse with a city name who protected a city,
who was spooked outside the baseball stadium
when a shopping bag wrapped around his leg,
a plastic thing versus a muscle-bound animal
in a busy crowd and a flash accident killed
a man. But then, I wonder, what for the horse?
Never to be ridden, stuck numb in a stall,
lightning bugs torturing the poor blood?
I bet that horse might have wanted to
die before he died. But not yet.
What is being delivered here is release.
Today, his officer-rider is finally retired, too,
with an old badge on the dashboard
and a fine plan to drive all the way to Montana,
where the rider has bought a ranch for his horse,
Seattle. The rider, and his horse, with his city-name,
and his forgiven city-mistakes, are charting
a clear new territory of absolution, and it makes
Ma and me happy. How good it is to love
live things, even when what they’ve done
is terrible, how much we each want to be
the pure exonerated creature, to be turned loose
into our own wide open without a single
harness of sin to stop us.