You saddled our horses before dawn
and woke me saying, “Lucky’s waiting for you.”
The heft of the saddle was in your voice,
the scratch of the blanket.
We let the earth roll out beneath us
a mile or more before we spoke again;
I judged your mood by the way you said
at sunrise, “How’s that old mule doing?”
What did the days of anger mean
to the black silhouettes of Southern pine,
jagged-edged against the morning?
What was loss but another mile under the hooves?
I don’t remember all you said,
only how I turned my head
against the wind to catch your voice,
only that the wind was low and constant
and smelled like night meeting day,
damp rot and all the heat that would come
too quickly, leaves and resin and, faintly,
horses and, fainter still, sawdust,
which was the smell of you, my father,
steeped in work and want and all for me.
You bought my horse by fencing
seven acres, weekends and evenings
after building houses. Those mornings
there were two of each of us: the girl
who might have kept the reins loose
in her left hand, the one who would carry
the bare pine branches to the sandy shore
of the Atlantic, waves pulling like a heavy-chested team;
the man who rode through darkness at my side,
the one whose heavy voice I never heard.