Horses in Snow

By Roberta Hill Whiteman b. 1947
They are a gift I have wanted again.
Wanted: One moment in mountains
when winter got so cold
the oil froze before it could burn.
I chopped ferns of hoarfrost from all the windows   
and peered up at pines, a wedding cake
by a baker gone mad. Swirls by the thousand   
shimmered above me until a cloud
lumbered over a ridge,
bringing the heavier white of more flurries.

I believed, I believed, I believed
it would last, that when you went out
to test the black ice or to dig out a Volkswagon   
filled with rich women, you’d return
and we’d sputter like oil,
match after match, warm in the making.
Wisconsin’s flat farmland never approved:
I hid in cornfields far into October,
listening to music that whirled from my thumbprint.   
When sunset played havoc with bright leaves of alders,

I never mentioned longing or fear.
I crouched like a good refugee in brown creeks
and forgot why Autumn is harder than Spring.   
But snug on the western slope of that mountain   
I’d accept every terror, break open seals
to release love’s headwaters to unhurried sunlight.   
Weren’t we Big Hearts? Through some trick of silver   
we held one another, believing each motion the real one,   
ah, lover, why were dark sources bundled up
in our eyes? Each owned an agate,

marbled with anguish, a heart or its echo,   
we hardly knew. Lips touching lips,   
did that break my horizon
as much as those horses broke my belief?   
You drove off and I walked the old road,   
scolding the doubles that wanted so much.
The chestnut mare whinnied a cloud into scrub pine.   
In a windless corner of a corral,
four horses fit like puzzle pieces.
Their dark eyes and lashes defined by the white.

The colt kicked his hind, loped from the fence.   
The mares and a stallion galloped behind,   
lifting and leaping, finding each other
in full accord with the earth and their bodies.   
No harm ever touched them once they cut loose,   
snorting at flurries falling again.
How little our chances for feeling ourselves.   
They vanished so quickly—one flick of a tail.   
Where do their mountains and moments begin?   
I stood a long time in sharpening wind.


Roberta Hill Whiteman, “Horses in Snow” from Star Quilt. Copyright © 1984 by Roberta Hill Whiteman. Used by permission of Holy Cow! Press, www.holycowpress.org.

Source: Star Quilt (Holy Cow! Press, 1984)

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Poet Roberta Hill Whiteman b. 1947

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Pets, Living, Disappointment & Failure, Love, Time & Brevity, Nature, Relationships, Winter, Sorrow & Grieving, Fall, Men & Women, Death, Animals, Heartache & Loss, Realistic & Complicated

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Biography

Roberta Hill Whiteman, a poet of Wisconsin Oneida heritage, is the author of Star Quilt, a poetry collection which integrates her ancestral culture with European-based approaches to verse. Whiteman grew up in Wisconsin among the Oneida community and also in Green Bay; the family moved between the two locales several times. In previous centuries the Oneida were forced to make a series of moves that displaced them from their . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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