Names of Horses by Donald Hall

Names Of Horses – Poem by Donald Hall


All winter your brute shoulders strained against collars, padding /and steerhide over the ash hames, to haul/ sledges of cordwood for drying through spring and summer, /for the Glenwood stove next winter, and for the simmering range.
In April you pulled cartloads of manure to spread on the fields,/ dark manure of Holsteins, and knobs of your own clustered with oats./ All summer you mowed the grass in meadow and hayfield, the mowing machine/ clacketing beside you, while the sun walked high in the morning;/ and after noon’s heat, you pulled a clawed rake through the same acres,/ gathering stacks, and dragged the wagon from stack to stack,/ and the built hayrack back, uphill to the chaffy barn,/ three loads of hay a day hanging wide from the hayrack.

Sundays you trotted the two miles to church with the light load/ of  a leather quartertop buggy, and grazed in the sound of hymns./ Generation on generation, your neck rubbed the window sill/ of the stall, smoothing the wood as the sea smooths glass.

When you were old and lame, when your shoulders hurt bending to graze,/ one October the man, who fed you and kept you, and harnessed you every morning,/ led you through corn stubble to sandy ground above Eagle Pond,/ and dug a hole beside you where you stood shuddering in your skin,

and laid the shotgun’s muzzle in the boneless hollow behind your ear,/ and fired the slug into your brain, and felled you into your grave,/ shoveling sand to cover you, setting goldenrod upright above you,/ where by next summer a dent in the ground made your monument.

For a hundred and fifty years, in the pasture of dead horses,/ roots of pine trees pushed through the pale curves of your ribs,/ yellow blossoms flourished above you in autumn, and in winter/ frost heaved your bones in the ground – old toilers, soil makers:

O Roger, Mackerel, Riley, Ned, Nellie, Chester, Lady Ghost.


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