03 June 2023

new poem: out stealing horses

"Out Stealing Horses" is published in Red Rock Review Issue 50 (available for purchase) and viewable online in a new digital edition of the issue: Out Stealing Horses.

Once when I was a teenager, my mother woke me up to say one of our horses had gotten out and was down the way at old Mr. Arvey's place. We hitched up the trailer and drove down there, I was told to go in and get that horse. Except that the horse in the paddock wasn't mine, which led to a disagreement. My mother will tell the story the way she remembers it, but we agree on one detail—no horses were harmed or stolen that night. At least not by us.

That night sticks in my my mind forty-five-ish years later when I think about how two people can remember things so differently. And the audacity of a couple of women to pull up to a dark farm with a trailer and (potentially) load up a horse and drive off into the night. 

I am often asked which parts of my work—story or poem—are real. All of it, I say. Every bit comes from the world I know. It's time that's fuzzy. That's what makes me a fiction writer—the manipulation of time and space. Good fiction takes the best real-world details from different times and places and stirs them into the perfect mix of story, tension, character and plot with implications of meaning and something larger. Easy. It's non-fiction writers who have the task of sorting through discrepant stories to get to what really happened that night. 

I'll never tell. 

11 April 2023

new poem: on the backs of horses

This week, a set of four poems appears in The Loch Raven Review (Vol 19 No 1): "On the Backs of Horses," "The Hunted," "Figure Eights," and "Suicide Stories." Their stories come mostly out of a few short, furious years that, in a lot of ways, beat me. During the worst of it, I landed in a space with horses, and in proximity, found some fragment of grace. It was enough. 

Moving to a small town where everyone knew everyone since forever created a different set of problems, but for the first time, I made a few friends there who weren't my siblings. More importantly, I made friends with all the horses. Ours. The neighbors'. The sheepherder's from down the road. The rich doctor's. My Sunday School teacher's chariot racers. Random strangers' horses. 

The horse-people may or may not have helped, but the animals grounded me in ways I didn't even know I needed. I also needed to be part of the process that develops between horse and rider, which never came easy. Some of those horses were as beaten down as I was when we met. Others were born into my care, which is a different kind of responsibility. Either way, it requires a vulnerability that I couldn't give to another human at that time. A horse asked it of me, and in giving it up, my life was saved.

Twenty years later, I was far from that place, and my life had changed and changed again. I sought out the horses for a life that wasn't my own and witnessed a similar transformation from a different perspective. 

In 2022, writing out of the pandemic and a surgery that double-isolated me, I was surprised to find the stories of those horses landing on the page. More surprising was that they showed up as poetry. Initially, I tried to hammer them into the short-story form that is my trade, but they refused, like a stubborn mare. I had to give up. . . again. And all the horses came back to me. 

Disclaimer: as always, I remain a fiction writer, and while every horse is inspired by a living, breathing animal out of my own experience, none of it is exactly biographical. (I get that question a lot.) It's the Emily Dickinson Rule: all of it true; all of it told slant.  

One of the first poems to show up, "Out Stealing Horses," is also forthcoming in Red Rock Literary Review. The dedications are deeply personal for different reasons, and I am grateful for each of these horse poems to have found their own space in the world. To read my new poems, visit The Loch Raven Review .

Would that I may always be in proximity to horses. 


by Carl Sandburg

After the last red sunset glimmer,

Black on the line of a low hill rise,

Formed into moving shadows, I saw

A plowboy and two horses lined against the gray,

Plowing in the dusk the last furrow.

The turf had a gleam of brown,

And smell of soil was in the air,

And, cool and moist, a haze of April.

I shall remember you long,

Plowboy and horses against the sky in shadow.

I shall remember you and the picture

You made for me,

Turning the turf in the dusk

And haze of an April gloaming.