Tag Archives: Horses

Farewell To My Favorite Poet

On Thursday, February 6th, 2014, I took my poodle Ike to the groomer. I had plans to meet the Girl Scout Moms group for dinner at a local Chinese place. I probably spent some time writing. If I didn’t do the dishes, I felt guilty about it. Also, unbeknownst to me, I lost my favorite poet.

I went to Wheaton College in Norton, MA.  Among all of the venerable and majestic colleges I’ve seen in New England, Wheaton is the prettiest. Beautiful old trees. A duck pond with a little Grecian temple. Brick-and-ivy dorms with gables and ells galore. I was happy there. Briefly.

My mother and I spent our first and last Mother’s Weekend together that fall. Mom and I listened to Margaret Atwood’s keynote. We walked arm-in-arm, as we love to do, around the pond. My baby sister was only four, so I knew how lucky I was to have time alone with my mother. It was a dream.

Nothing happened to my mom. It was my wonderful dad who got hurt. I won’t go into detail, but a couple of weeks after Mother’s Weekend, he was hit by a drunk driver. He became quadriplegic and ultimately, in the fall of my senior year, died.

Apart from my friends, I thought no one knew. I’m older now. I realize that everyone knew. My professors. My advisors. The administration. Everyone.

My family had been one of “those families.” My parents were deeply in love and loved their five children. We loved them right back. When Dad was injured, it was as if the whole world had been slapped across the face. I understand how people freeze when faced with a terrible situation. We didn’t know what to do. No one knew what to do.

I wish I had more pleasant memories of Wheaton, but I don’t. It was a dark and confusing time for me. I wasn’t myself at all. Almost nothing made sense.

Maxine Kumin’s poetry was an exception.

My freshman English professor was delightfully old-fashioned. Professor Edwin Briggs called his wife,”my beloved consort.” He read the whole of BEOWULF to us in Old English. He asked us to memorize and recite poetry. I often chose the work of Maxine Kumin.

Her plainspoken voice and practical turn of mind appealed to me. Like me, she loved and wrote about horses. Her JACK is a heartbreaking tribute to a long-lost horse. I remember learning AFTER LOVE (Brave Prof. Briggs! How awkward it must have been sometimes!) and I remember learning ALMOST SPRING, DRIVING HOME, RECITING HOPKINS. I found in Kumin’s words the stubborn resilience I knew lay dormant in me. Don’t get me wrong–I was a walking, talking disaster–but I smiled a genuine smile when I read her poetry.

As often happens, I didn’t read her work again for twenty years. When we finally came back to Boston, I saw her name by chance in a brochure for a poetry reading (tonight!) in Harvard Square. I found childcare and raced in but missed her. Another reading was canceled due to bad weather. She was getting older, I knew, and had once been seriously injured in a carriage-driving accident. Why would she chance it? I thought about writing to her, but decided against it.

Maxine Kumin left us on Thursday, February 6th, 2014.

It’s okay. It’s okay because I know, although we never met, we had a relationship. She was the poet. I was the reader. She knew I was out there, reading her words, remembering her words. She was right.

After her carriage accident, Maxine Kumin’s head, like my dad’s, was bolted into a brace called a halo. It’s a horrific contraption, very medieval, but when you need one, you need one. She was one of the lucky few that emerge from the halo able to walk again, to write again, to stroll out to the pasture to give an old horse an apple. I’m tremendously grateful for that.

So goodbye to the friend I never met. Thank you for offering words that made sense when nothing else did.





Some Things Never Change

Thankfully, some things never change. Like horses. Horses never change. I fell in love with them when I was two years old, and they are the very same creatures now as then. In a world whirling with change, that’s pretty precious. They smell the same, sound the same, act the same. They are as gorgeous, fragile, and dangerous as ever.

When I was a kid, the horses I knew were ponies. Down and dirty, backyard ponies housed in old sheds. They were fenced in with a motley assortment of boards and wire.  They received only rudimentary vet care. They were hardly trained and could be very unpredictable. They were good teachers, though. Nothing will teach you to hold your seat in the saddle like a sudden left-hand turn at a full gallop. Their lives were simple. They were happy and healthy animals, loved by their people, and content to trot kids through the woods for hours.

Now I ride at a beautiful, beautiful barn. It was designed and built for the management of well-bred dressage horses. Every possible care was taken to make sure they would be comfortable and safe. The horses have a live-in manager to watch over them. They get dental care. Massages. Acupuncture.  

But you know what? They are no different in most ways from the shaggy little guys I knew and loved. They are still creatures of flight that will flee from imagined danger into very real danger in the blink of an eye. You still have to win their trust. You still have to remember to watch out for their hooves and their teeth.

When I was a pony-mad girl, I only knew I loved horses and wanted to be near them. Now I know how they nourish me.

For one thing, horsemanship and riding are difficult. Anyone can provide basic care for a horse, but to really understand them takes a lifetime of devotion. I love that. I’ll never, ever, learn enough and that’s okay. To ride well, whatever the discipline, takes patience and focus. To persuade a horse to participate as a partner rather than force him to obey takes delicacy and respect. Even the littlest is huge–a miniature horse can weigh 250 pounds–and they are both strong and opinionated. They do not suffer fools. 

My work as a writer nourishes me in a similar way. Writing is difficult and takes a lifetime’s worth of learning. I love that. I’ll never, ever, learn enough and that’s okay. Writing requires patience and focus. Even the littlest bit of writing–a 250 word picture book–is huge and opinionated. To try to force words to do anything is both foolhardy and likely fruitless. They’ll run away from you every time and once loose, are hard to capture again. Beautiful writing, like beautiful riding, takes delicacy and a respectful attitude. 

So I try. I try to ride well, despite achy joints and the many pressures of life. I try to write well, despite the same achy joints. Both disciplines are difficult. Both are beautiful. Some things never change, and for that, I’m grateful.

Enjoy the day.