C. Ann Kodra

The Ghosts of Horses Who Knew Him

     
   

For my father (March 1928-March 2006)

 

They drift to the fence as they graze the pastureland,

though finding the apple in his flat-palmed hand

 

will be denied. They shuffle forward toward

his disappearance; no jangling bit, no word

 

to guide them on this shadow trail; no hushed

whistle to harness swiveled ears, lost wish

 

in the wind. His slowing heart chose spring so

it need not bear the cold of another winter snow:

 

stark white ground, work stabled out of sight.

In logged clearings they stomp, gather their height

 

on ponderous hooves, snort wistful dreams and push

aside the long-untended grass and brush,

 

smelling, tasting for some familiar presence

that will forgive this new, disturbing absence.

     
         
 

Richard Benedict’s Clock

     
   

He did all his work with horses,
plowed and planted, harvested and rested.
The invention of the engine would ruin
the world, he told my father, a boy
who imagined a tangle of gears and switches
rising up, wielding oil-slick swords, slaying
children and parents at each farmhouse
nesting in the meadows.

By team and wagon or team and sleigh,
my father’s grandfather drove the family
to visit a brother five miles away or took
Martha to teach at the one-room school
when snow drifted too deep for boots.
Grandpa Rich wore a shoulder yoke to carry
two pails of water, twelve quarts each,
from the spring. A rope on each end of the yoke,
a hook for the bails, and my father ached
for the day when he could bear this load.

Richard Benedict, a horse-drawn man, refused
to change his clock to daylight savings time
in spring; neighbors lived an hour ahead of him.
My father’s Aunt June would ask, Are we coming
to supper by our time or yours? But his horses
knew time, and he wagered their eager whinnies
to announce a dawn and dusk always arriving
just ahead of hunger, the steady clock
that marks a working man’s life.

     
         
 

Sweet Sin, 1939

     
   

My father ate forbidden cake in the open house
of the Lord. The annual offering of food borne
by students, made by mothers and grandmothers,
 
lifted high with pride as they hiked Trout Pond’s shore
on a Sunday, settling gifts on wooden tables the fathers
set up beside water. The silenced clop of horses’ hooves

and creaks of carts served as grace, and all bowed
their heads to plates. Main fare taken in, my father
crept close to the white-iced, two-tiered tower of sin,

a dessert rumored tainted by the sour dirt of disregard,
a cook unclean, unworthy of providing manna.
Murmurs of smells, cats on the table, shame:

this family whose mother baked a cake for her son
to bear on this day of rest, a batter blended with care
and expectant hope that every proffered communion

holds. Others passed it by. My father, hungry but shy,
nabbed a slice and ate it fast, then grabbed another.
Years later, he’d yet to suffer ill effects except remarks

of those better than a family who owned only an ox,
lack-of-equine reason for gossip after church. The creature,
harnessed like a horse but for the heavy collar in reverse,

slow but powerful, plowed and ferried all their needs,
steady as a quicker steed. The beast hauled them into
a shaky tomorrow of crossed ocean and war that would soon

encroach on their humble party stores, where cakes boasted
no sugar inside, the outsides bereft of a sweetened glaze.
Where the shunned family finally traded the ox for one old horse

and found themselves raised—near level with neighbors;
no one stocked enough rationed staples to say her cakes
were sweeter, none with a leftover crumb for a picnic lunch.

     
        return to poetry
 

C. Ann Kodra works as an independent editor in Knoxville, Tennessee. Her poetry and short stories have appeared or are pending in journals and anthologies including Blueline, Cavalier Literary Couture, Common Ground Review, Cutthroat, MOTIF(vol. 1 & 3), New Millennium Writings, Now & Then, Prime Mincer, RHINO, Still: The Journal, Yemassee, and others. She is a contributing editor for New Millennium Writings and past guest poetry editor for The Medulla Review. She has won prizes in several contests including the Libba Moore Gray Poetry Contest (2008, 2013), The Medulla Review Poetry Contest (2010), Prime Mincer’sPoetry Contest (2011), the Old Gray Cemetery Poetry Contest (2012), and the Green River Writers Contest (2013).