There was the gray mare
who broke her neck in the two-horse trailer

when it came off the hitch, her eye open
to the pasture and sky, the dually and irrigation ditch.

I won’t tell you anything metaphorical
about looking into a horse’s eye, only:

look into a horse’s eye. And Pete, the small bay
who bucked once and fell

while I was on his back, a heart attack
in the middle of the arena, me trapped

and small under him dying. I remember nothing,
then standing beside a backhoe

over a grave large enough for an elephant,
a pond in the distance, a junkyard,

something not quite like a service
held by two men in boots.

Then the one that foundered, and the one stone dead
on his back in the stall, legs sticking up

like some dinner table thrown over
in rage, left in an empty house forever.

The one a neighbor shot. The one in Oklahoma
that starved. The one who broke free

and ran through the darkness into the open
highway and headlights. In the fields of time

I sometimes picture a desert, the giant
rib bones of a horse blown with sand, the sound

of the sweet, slow breath that once
neighed at swallows in the rafters.

There was Scout, a child’s horse,
who we found standing

solid in the pasture, his hooves
planted into the soil where he was already

growing into something else. Our hands
as we pulled the lead on his halter,

the going nowhere, his neck giving way
and pulling back again.

He never left that spot—died there
two days later, the halter gone, the feed

in a bucket beside him. When I told you
to look into a horse’s eye, maybe

I should have prefaced with this: glass
and water, a smaller world mirroring

a rope and a boy, then further behind that,
the impossible place where a field met the sky.

The Dead Horses I Have Known by Clay Matthews

Photo used under CC.