10 stanzas to bury a horse

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You cannot shoot the tumoured horse yourself,
anymore than face the shadows
scanned within your bones.

You can lead her to the pit already dug
but she’ll balk and rear at the site
of opened earth, and with the lead
rope singing through the callus
of your hands, her face all wide-eyed
blaze and flare, you’ll let her go .

And as she settles, calmed beside the stream,
this man you’ve paid to kill a horse
will turn and say that he could do it
where she stands.

You’ll squint against the light,
raise a hand to brush a fly
then nod assent and watch him go-
a long walk down to water.

And as he holds a hand cupped under her muzzle,
she’ll stamp a hoof and snort,
tendons trembling through the fetlock
until he smooths his hand across
the twitch of flank and whispers in her ear
a prayer perhaps to speed her way to Valhöll
and there, his hand flat and pressed against
the plane between her eyes, she’ll gentle.

And as he turns to load the rifle, the clack
of bullet chambered and the bolt now seating
home, a part within you cracks.

And at the raising of the barrel
you’ll drop your gaze
and turn your back
and wait.

The crack is not what hurts the most,
but the stumbled sound as she slumps
first onto swaying haunches, then down,
full force thudding into earth.

And he will offer solemn quiet as the pair of you,
tendons trembling through your fingers,
cinch the ropes around her hips,
tie a chain under her elbows,
lash the wretched mess to the towbar
and even in his kindness ride with you,
the slow drag up the hill to the pit,
kind enough to do it all in silence.

And when you’re done, he’ll have the sense
to leave you be and make his own way back
towards the stream and though
there’ll be no red to wash away,
he’ll kneel and hold his hands beneath the flow
as you, cracking with your grief,
the shovel heavy in your hands,
fold earth back into earth.

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