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Site design: Skeleton

Sample Poems by Julia Wendell

Night Check
            “Let your suffering eyes
            and your anonymous deaths
            be the bridle that keeps us from straying from each other,
            be the cinch that fastens us to the belly of each day.”
                                                —Billy Collins, “Nine Horses”

Girth, not cinch:
Cinch is what girths do, not are.
Not bridle, shank.
Bridles are for riding, for stopping & steering,
shanks for keeping horses
close to human ways
& not straying off to wander the prairie.
Forgive me, Mr. Collins,
I’ve earned the little I know well,
snapped many a shank on the restless one
who senses it’s time to be led out to his dusky paddock.
And the other, who needs to be kicked
& slapped, prodded to standing
for the rope that will lead her out under the McIntosh tree
so she can be more easily carted away.
I’ve had a girth snap under me,
my body flung from the horse’s back.
A shank was ripped through my fingers
by a cranky one who’d rather
gallop back to the barn than be attached to me.
Now a pointer & a middle & a ring
bend every which way,
though I still long to walk out
into the piano of each repetitive day:
the bright song of sky & hilltop
& horses as far as the eye can see.
I know a little about
bridles made of triple-stitched South Hall leather
& bits the color of gold, some
with starling eggs
in the center of the mouthpiece
that will encourage the rankest of mares
to bend & soften.
And I know what it feels like to leg up
my Irish one of a moonstruck night check
with ropes as reins attached to each side of the halter,
his huge sides warming my bare legs—
not a kid of 12 anymore—
but a tired woman of 52 summers
who lets the horse braille his way
through the inky shadows of the farm,
that’s all—So forgive me
for knowing so little
& yet having so much.
This is my gratitude.



Trouble rides back & forth between us
on our way to the farm,
where we find Houston’s front leg dangling
at an obscene angle.
The gray passes the irretrievable
to me: pick-up sticks of bones protruding
through the shattered pastern,
blood on fence boards, on grass, blood on us.
There’s a certain look in a horse’s eye
when he senses his end,
the same as in my mother’s glazed eyes
after the last surgery, in my husband’s
after his betrayal, & in my own
after mine.
I’m holding mother all over again
as the barbiturate goes in
& the horse wobbles & sinks to his knees,
the breath slowing, her eyes fluttering shut,
my husband, the moon in the door, key in the ignition,
that explosion of tires on wet pavement.

Counting Sheep

I’ve got my mother’s breasts & hips,
my father’s hands & calves,
his easy slimness—her high-pitched voice,
his obsession for being right,
her obsession for being righter.
Two arms for his, two for hers,
I watch the boomerang
on my loft ceiling: fan blades
throwing memories at the stilled moon.
Her gift of sound, love of horses;
his, of poems & words
cantering across the history texts.
His bad stomach, her worse heart.
Her way of playing angry
fingers on invisible keys—
Ta-dum, ta-dum, ta-dum—
of glaring, “Couperin, my favorite,” while meaning
“Don’t ever speak to me that way again.”
If you ignored a problem,
would it just go away?
I read between her lines,
watched her chest move up & down,
sat by her bed & listened to her breathe:
Ta-dum, ta-dum, ta-dum.
It’s okay to go,” I whispered, hoping
if I gave her permission
she would just go to sleep.

         In memory of my mother

Scotch pulls from her mother,
stamps the stall floor
when the mare turns away toward her timothy.
This one’s the best in the barn—
short back, long runner’s legs, good angle to the shoulder.
“Who does that?” I ask my husband
as we turn out the big mare & baby,
Scotch trotting circles around her feather duster of a tail.
Just a week old, she could run for days if she had to.
It’s enough to tempt faith in lesser prophets:
someone’s got to be responsible for perfection.
We pause at the gate,
arms flung over the oak board fencing,
watch how near Rhapsody’s flank
the newborn stands, gallops in the séance
& shadow at her mother’s side
so even the wolves who see all can’t see.
She’s safe in her world
as long as she stays close, which will last
a few months if she’s lucky, or forty-seven years
if she’s anything like me.

 What I Miss

Are the long backs of afternoons
stretched out on the deck with only the company
of poplars & elms at the edge of our acres.
I would wait for the sound of you,
tires crunching gravel,
our dog’s tail thumping
floorboards before he dashes out
to greet you, my emissary.
How could I know it would come to
the missing which is everything?
To a hand on a steering wheel in the Superstition Mountains
outside of Phoenix, Arizona,
rewinding the past as fast as I can
to the moment you turn to a younger me
you are just getting to know,
a bottle of Merlot open on the seat between us,
my face blazing with dry heat & new love.


Daughter of King Cinyras of Cyprus who had incestuous relations with
her father and was changed into a myrrh tree by the gods. Their child,
Adonis, was born from the split trunk of the tree.

They say he didn’t know
who crept into his room at night,
lay down beside him.
But how could a father not know
the scent of his daughter
or the shape of her hand in darkness?
Myrrha, how do I read your steady weeping?
Silenced as a homely tree, your truth
lies rooted to the split trunk,
its resin reaching far
into the familiar
when I turn in my restless sheets
to find what’s
waiting for me there:
musk of bark chips
scattered in my hair
each time I take
what I shouldn’t have.