Poet’s Corner: The horses of summer

August at Dusk
The sun has dropped below Sterling Mountain,
freeing for the brief night hours the pasture
of endless summer sun’s incessant beating heat.
In relief the grasses breathe out vapors.
In the rising, warm air stream,
like a kind thought before a friend speaks,
we sense in the night a benign presence
before their huge, dark bodies take shape.
Our two mares, expecting gentle hands,
after generations of their kind and ours sharing lives—
interrupt their serious night grazing to greet us.
They breathe on us as we stroke their softness—
their breath, ours, the earth’s intermingling.
Kathleen McKinley Harris
Kathleen McKinley Harris, a former teacher and co-publisher of the newspaper “The Champlain Courier,” is the author of the children’s book “The Wonderful Hay Tumble.” Her poem “Bear Fear” won the Ralph Nading Hill, Jr. Literary Award. Finishing Line Press is publishing her chapbook, “Earth Striders,” a collection of poems centered on horses and set mostly in Vermont. “August at Dusk,” as part of this collection, was first published by Finishing Line. Her book, out this month, is available in local bookstores and at finishinglinepress.com.
It is not easy during these cold autumn days to remember August, but it wasn’t all that long ago. This poem, “August at Dusk,” takes us back with strong sensory images so we don’t have to try hard to feel the heat or the grasses that “breathe out vapors.” We know just what the speaker means, especially if we have ever stood near a pasture or meadow on a hot summer night.
The poem moves through the evening heat, the pasture’s vapors, and the speaker’s motions, to the waiting horses. We can feel all of this intermingling while walking the field of earth that holds it all. But it is the horses’ presence that feels strongest as the poem progresses. I can feel their warm breath falling onto the speaker and her friend, which allows me to feel more fully the breath of the evening and the moisture in the air and grasses. The moment of coming upon the speaker’s beloved horses feels like the moment in the poem where it shifts from being a pleasant evening stroll, to part of a larger story of the interconnectedness of everything on earth, and a sense of something even beyond earth. The poem takes on a bit of a dreamlike quality, as movement slows and color fades. As darkness descends and a more subtle presence emerges.
Yet, the breath is still present in this dream like setting of the poem. In Chinese culture the breath is called qi, in India, prana, in Africa, ashe. The word breath in every culture, including western culture, carries a meaning that includes spirit or soul. None of this information is in the poem, but the sense of it and the feel of it is. It’s in the breathing of the grasses, the warm air stream rising, and especially the horses, whose warm breath and mere presence shifts the speaker’s consciousness to greater awareness, and ours too, if we let it.
Susan Jefts is a poet living in Cornwall. She teaches college level writing, facilitates workshops, and publishes her work in journals throughout the country. She offers writing workshops and also programs that use poetry as a vehicle for exploring life themes and directions. For more info, visit the workshops page of her website at ManyRiversLifeGuidance.com, or email her at [email protected].

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