by May Swenson
The summer that I was ten—
Can it be there was only one
summer that I was ten?
It musthave been a long one then—
each day I’d go out to choose
a fresh horse from my stable
which was a willow grove
down by the old canal.
I’d go on my two bare feet.
But when, with my brother’s jack-knife,
I had cut me a long limber horse
with a good thick knob for a head,
and peeled him slick and clean
except a few leaves for the tail,
and cinched my brother’s belt
around his head for a rein,
I’d straddle and canter him fast
up the grass bank to the path,
trot along in the lovely dust
that talcumed over his hoofs,
hiding my toes, and turning
his feet to swift half-moons.
The willow knob with the strap
jouncing between my thighs
was the pommel and yet the poll
of my nickering pony’s head.
My head and my neck were mine,
yet they were shaped like a horse.
My hair flopped to the side
like the mane of a horse in the wind.
My forelock swung in my eyes,
my neck arched and I snorted.
I shied and skittered and reared,
stopped and raised my knees,
pawed at the ground and quivered.
My teeth bared as we wheeled
and swished through the dust again.
I was the horse and the rider,
and the leather I slapped to his rump
spanked my own behind.
Doubled, my two hoofs beat
a gallop along the bank,
the wind twanged my mane,
my mouth squared to the bit.
And yet I sat on my steed
quiet, negligent riding,
my toes standing the stirrups,
my thighs hugging his ribs.
At a walk we drew up at the porch.
I tethered him to a paling.
Dismounting, I smoothed my skirt
and entered the dusky hall.
My feet on the clean linoleum
left ghostly toes in the hall.
Where have you been? said my mother.
Been riding, I said from the sink,
and filled me a glass of water.
What’s that in your pocket? she said.
Just my knife. It weighed my pocket
and stretched my dress awry.
Go tie back your hair, said my mother
and Why is your mouth all green?
Rob Roy, he pulled some clover
as we crossed the field, I told her.