by David Baker
You have to turn your back to the animals.
In theory it's better for them than shoes.
You have to hold them one leg at a time
pinched with your legs to pick clean beneath each
hoof the sawdust, straw, mud-pack, pebbles, dung.
The old ones stand patient, while the young may
stomp the hard barn floor to tell you to quit,
or nod their long necks or quiver or huff.
Rain has turned them skittish, the rain-flung leaves,
whatever flies or crawls from a cold tree.
The scrape of your moon-crescent blade, as you
carve each hoof hard as plastic or soft wood
down to the white heart, makes them want to grow
wings, makes them want to fly or die or run.
You have to talk them down. Easy, you say
in your own wind, soothing, easy now, whoa.
But it's the long, continuous sighing
breath of the file that stills them, for they know
you are through. You round the last edges down
and smooth the hard breaks, as one by one they trot
through the tack-room door, muscle, mane, shadow,
turning their backs to you. Now the sun is out.
Barn swallows brighten the loft. You watch them
break into flight, hoofprints trickling with rain.
David Baker is a professor of English at Denison University. His latest book is (2000).
All material copyright © 2000 . All rights reserved.