Sunday Mourning

by Brenda Levy Tate
PenShells
First Place, October 2013
Judged by Kelly Cherry


An eye tarnishes; motes drift
from webs and air, to stick
where the shine is fading.
No glaze – only a dustfall.
Death holds its own gravity.

His grey coat stretches dry
over old bone; his rib-rack
heave has ended. In the corner,
a bucket squats where thirst
will never visit again.
On the sill, a mercy bottle
sits drained of its poison.

His last bed is straw, hard
boards under mane and shoulder,
turf bits fallen from hooves
when he dropped down.
He cannot feel our hands now.
His name, tossed among
the rafters, comes back empty.

We scuff in the aisle, waiting
for his absence to solidify.
Something needs to leave;
we have to let it out.
All we understand is a door
into the next room.

The barn cat steps lightly
around us, knowing
this is not her business here.
In the yard, a blue backhoe
purls and shudders.


I'd change the title, since Wallace Stevens's "Sunday Morning" is so well known and so stunning. And I hope the poet might consider deleting the first stanza and the poem's last line: the first stanza is so abstract that we have to return to it later, when we realize that it describes a dying horse. The last line, by animating the backhoe, subtracts from the horse's centrality. The rest of the poem is marvelously moving, especially in the way the horse is allowed to retain his dignity. That "[s]omething needs to leave" is a perfect line, referring us to the spirit or soul of the horse.

There is a nobility about horses that this poem acknowledges and defers to. Of course, we can read a poem about a horse as if it were a poem about a person, and that heightens the emotion, but here the details of "turf bits," "hard boards" and "straw"--the actual life of a horse--lift the poem above sentimentality. I like it very much! --Kelly Cherry

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