The Horses’ Bodies

wild horses chernobyl
image: wild horses reintroduced to Chernobyl

I watch the horses’ bodies.

They convey so clearly their feelings, their intent,
their cautions to each other.
So much more than I, they are their bodies, at one with them, present in them always.

What they can say with a gentle movement of the head,
or a sound as quiet and subtle as a whisper,
a ripple of muscle, a stamp or shuffle of the feet, a swish of the tail —
everything a relaying of the messages their bodies send them:
what’s happening inside, and between the members of their band,
and elsewhere, nearby, in their place.

Like what their stomach thought of that particular patch of grass they ate, and of last night’s hay,
and the water, a little more acidic than it used to be.

Or what their comrades think of this place
where they’ve been brought, what they think of its comforts,
whether they think of it as home,
and how they do or do not miss, or do not know,
that feeling of wild freedom.

Or what they think of the new stablemate, or the new barn,
or the newborn one — how healthy she is, how coordinated,
how articulate she is about herself,
how much she has to learn.

Or what the birds’ songs and calls (or their absences) are telling them,
and what the wind says about what is coming:
what weather, what joys, what dangers.

Or whether they’re at peace, in that endless timeless place
where the creatures that are still connected to the earth live,
in the stress-free moments when they can.

Or what the earth and the sun and the moon, and the leaves,
wet with rain or dew or frost, are saying.

Things that all the world can hear, except, it seems, for me.

.     .     .     .     .

My massage therapist’s fingers glide up and down my body,
eased by the warm oil, in the warm dark room, with the soft music.
With her hands she connects parts of me together, like a surgeon,
that I had not realized were pieces of a whole:
my kneebone, thigh muscles, breastbone, rippling together:
I am astonished to feel myself as one.

As she caresses my arms, my hands involuntarily curl to return her touch,
but they cannot reach, and they do not know what to do
with such a vast and mysterious canvas as a body.

Later, in my sleep, I return her gift with my fingers, my tongue,
but even this intense focus on body, this ecstacy, is not present,
it’s disconnected, it’s about my head not her body,
not a gift in kind at all.

And when I ride her, my hands holding tight around her shoulders,
we are not two bodies moving as one; rather
she is flying through the forest, panting and gasping
with each movement, soaring forward, reaching,
touching everything, laughing, snorting,
while I am merely trying to hold on.

.     .     .     .     .

My knowledge of my body is like my doctor’s,
limited to numbers on charts
(on days its suffering can no longer be ignored).
I read the numbers and tell my body: “Try this”.
It shakes in despair at my ignorance.

.     .     .     .     .

I imagine that I am a horse.

Nostrils flaring, ears alert and attuned to the sound of a distant train whistle, body quivering slightly
in the cool morning breeze.

I feel the sunrise, first through a transient warming of the atmosphere in which I am enveloped,
then as a barely perceptible increase in ambient light levels,
and then the explosion of direct sunlight,
screaming across the horizon.

I smell the approach of this other horse, before I hear her;
I don’t need to turn my head to acknowledge her — my smell does that, the pace of my breath,
the movement of muscles visible on my back and flanks.

She tells me, without words, that she still grieves the loss of her sibling, taken away without reason,
and that she is restless for the Spring.

I convey to her the weariness in my old bones, and she empathizes, with a nuzzle,
her breath a balm.

And then, as we walk, we share our memories, and dreams:
Of running, wild, across the heath, along the mountain trail.
Of that creek with the icy water, in the sunshine at dusk,
the sky purple and gold.
Of the little human girl who was too afraid to enjoy riding,
as desperately as she wanted to, and how we made her laugh,
and how she cried when she was led away.
Of the recent storm, and how it called to us.
Of the magic and fearsomeness of fire.

.     .     .     .     .

My friend Tali has been walking and running with me,
wild, naked, effortlessly, in the forest, pretending we are horses.
She has been around horses all her life.
What’s most important, she tells me,
in building a relationship with a horse,
is simply this: Allow them to choose.
“They know that the best way for them to learn
is by making their own choices, trial and error,
not by being told or coerced or even shown what to do.
That includes learning how to relate to you.”

We are watching the horses, and the wild deer
that come each evening to share their grass and water.
It occurs to me the horses are wise, and that Tali’s rule
would serve us well in establishing our relationships with others:
Allow our children to choose, and our potential partners in life and work,
and our community mates. Allow them all to choose.
The invitation, its gracefulness, its generosity,
its particularity, is all. Then just wait, and see, and trust
that the response will be the right one,
will match the chemistry of the situation.
Will make “sense”.
I bow to Tali, as a horse bows.

.     .     .     .     .

The next day I watch the tiny, graceful swallows:
aerial daredevils, so adapted to living in midair
that they can eat their fill without landing.

I would like to learn to live in midair: It seems to me
in this time that is both too early and too late
living in midair is the best way to be.
The horses, however, do not agree.

So now I watch the swallows’ bodies:
a different sort of grace,
a different way of knowing and being and communicating.
A different sense of connection and part-hood.

A different embodiment of
horse sense.

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6 Responses to The Horses’ Bodies

  1. ps pirro says:

    Wow. Just… wow.

    “Allow them to choose.”

    I might have to share this at my next poetry reading. Thank you.

  2. Pingback: From My Feed | ps pirro

  3. Beauty Dave… a beautiful picture of connection and empathy and the deep wisdom that lies in belonging, as many species, to one life.

  4. CathyF says:

    Stunning Dave,

    What knowings, images you have so generously, artfully crafted and shared, and in the Year of the Horse too. Will be sharing with horse/writers/friends here in Ireland and beyond – thank you! from a sometimes, Fire Horse.

  5. For a moment there I was escorted back to my childhood reading of The Silver Brumby ( When I was a kid I didn’t imagine growing up to be so disconnected from the natural world – I naively expected to become more attuned to it and learn more and more about the ways of nature as did the protagonists of my beloved stories. And now, quarter of a century after I first read those books, and got to know those characters within as well as I know people now, I feel an emptiness that can only be filled by a re-connection that is not offered by our way of life.

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