This Is the Horse Poem I’ve Been Try­ing to Write

The Iowa Review - - KELSI VANADA - Kelsi vanada

Pho­to­graph circa 1944: this horse’s head’s cut off. Its hooves are, too. Who manned this cam­era? Cen­tral: my great-un­cle El­don, Marie’s lit­tle brother, two years old, astride the horse. His hair’s so blond it’s nonex­is­tent white in the light of day, or of the cam­era. Shiny bright spot where a boy’s fore­head should be. His ear to her coat the only touch­point be­tween him and the Lakota woman he sits be­hind, rid­ing dou­ble with her. Mrs. Sam Butcher, he tells me when he sends the pho­to­graph. She was our sheep­herder when Dad ran sheep on rented reser­va­tion pas­ture­land. Hold­ing the col­or­less print, I can’t meet his eyes. Her face’s blurred, flaw in the de­vel­op­ing, or she’s turn­ing away from the cam­era’s snap, like its mo­ment came a half sec­ond be­fore she’d planned, or she’s speak­ing to El­don, turn­ing to face him: don’t fall off. My great-grand­fa­ther’s brand is on the horse’s shoul­der’s flesh. Be­hind its flanks a man’s torso-less legs: feet hid­den in tallgrass, his head’s blocked by the woman, did he just set El­don on the horse for the pho­to­graph? In the sky, gray, winged specks’re surely not birds. The Cheyenne River Reser­va­tion’s just a mile from Faith.

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