AFTER RAIN

by David Baker


1.

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.

2.

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.

3.

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.


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