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Coupled             {published in MMM Vol. VII}

by Lisa Lewis


The neck’s crest bridges to the pricked ears.

The ears flick back when the neck rises.

I’ve read the loose-ring snaffle doubles

The hands’ gestures to the horse’s tongue:

Gloves mute their randomness, uncontrolled

Twitches of the fingers, blood’s pulse.

I bought lilac nylon, suede-palmed to stick

To reins’ leather slick with mare’s sweat.

It lathers between her thighs on hot days,

Like today, as the video shows at home

In air-conditioning while I watch myself,

And her, working to learn. My technique’s

Flaws bewilder us both: the ears flick back

When the neck rises. The back hollows,

The hocks drive out behind, the lumbosacral

Joint drops forward flexion, and the touch

Of my legs to her barrel offends, as the ears

Tell, and the neck, which, when correct,

Arches along the crest’s length, the thick mane

Loose to the left, lifting in stride, bent

Like the tall grass through which a bull snake

Roiled, once, at the mare’s feet, escaping

The wellhouse shade where last spring it shed

Skin. Neither of us flinched. We’re bold

From weeks of training’s concentration,

So I think back years, to lessons, horse shows,

Abandoned hopes, my belief I lacked

The talent, and know, now, decades late,

It was all wrong, including evaluation

Of error, and my life on top of bad riding

And worse guessing: I can’t say I should’ve

Known but could’ve, since now, middle-aged,

Daily saddling the mare bought cheap

To relive old passions, ambitions, in secret

Dreams, I have gone on—gone and done it.

Sometimes, right. Her stiff side: right,

Meaning she is loath to stretch her left

But will, urged, considered, across the mowed

Bermuda pasture, mosquitoes choiring to feed,

Wood bees’ stumbling feints, red dust, red mud,

Shoulder-in, leg yield, half-pass, rudiments

Of flying change, and my nights reading

And staring myself to sleep with remote control,

Slow mo, stop action, checking suspension

At the trot, why does she flirt her jaw, why fling

White lather, is the neck soft, or stiff, and which

Is wrong? Which goes round? Do I dare claim

We’ve done it right? Now that winning doesn’t

Matter except alone, solitary ethic of pace,

Straddle, and afternoon light? I claim it

By the moment, where it lives. One night I read,

I must feel where each leg steps, not looking,

And next day did. Cantering, slow, hooves

Clocking spokes of a wheel. One night I read,

When you think you should take, give. Next

Day did: poured from suede palm, shoulder,

Sunburned, curled fingers, elbow’s rusty hinge,

And the neck, chestnut, wet with honest rain,

Bowed to the bit, seeking touch through slight

Tension, chewing down air to meet metal

I could hold before her, floating: I won’t betray

My joy when, between my calves, sides swelled,

And beneath my seat, back bounded like a doe,

Or ocean’s wave, or love, of self, of rightness,

Balance, motion, everything. I’d say the world

Should’ve been there when I promised her that

Inch of space I’d plundered years and in obliging

Heart she returned the favor and gifted

Like a spring from earth’s center: I’d say it

But the world was there, stretching snakeskin,

Bridging mare’s footfalls everywhere, me

Mounted midst black-eyed susans, Indian

Paintbrush, one horsepower, dirt road west

Where pickups blurred, speeding, oblivious, wrong

As I’d been minutes before, and overhead both

Hawk and great blue heron, united in sky,

Gazing down, away, sailing like the sun

On high, and in my hands the clink of snaffle

Speaking back, soft, now, tongue, metal, forge

The rest of our lives worthwhile, soft, now, coupled.