The Field Marshal’s Shadow

For Pat and Christopher and Jynx

He would never quit the field early

Never resign his commission.


It must have been orders from higher up, that he was needed elsewhere.

But true leadership does not abandon

It minds the gap.

And so, mourned, lost, enshrouded though he is,


There is a certain thump, of paws hitting the floor.

When the only paws are in evidence here, not in the other room.

There is the gaze of an adversary tracked there, by the feline eyes here.

There is the sudden tail switch, as if an innocent butt very nearly received a velveted swat.

Clearly, someone has to direct the day. Water must be refreshed, food must be presented (although the boring kind), the servants must be driven to rise, to tend, to accommodate. Chairs, ledges, counters, stairs, must all be occupied in due course.

The campaign is carried on.

Leadership devolves to the previous, civilian government. Civility has its place, one supposes.

The martial calls fade, the brisk reviews of troops decline. The whole place goes back to torpid quiet.

To reading, to writing, to napping.

They do notice the void. They cannot help but listen for the lost voice, look for the errant paw, reach for the ambitious soul that stirred the place up.

The legion, stationed abroad, spreading the empire to the farthest reaches of the planet,

The legion retires his colors.

The legion sounds the mournful notes of farewell.

The legion passes in respectful review.

The legion acknowledges a return to civilian government

A proper dark attire, mourning, in place of bars of rank proudly displayed.

The legion will always remember.

GNU Castiel.

We mind the gap.


On Writers, Real Writers

For Susan Palwick

Susan made me do it, made me reconsider.

She does that.

Spinner, knitter, weaver, crafter

She sees the pattern and the details.

Spots a snag, a lumpy bit, an errant thread.

Sometimes, goes on. Sometimes, starts over.

So here, I start over.

Real Writers, I said.

Meaning (old school) Published. Bound. Illustrated covers.

Those who made the books I discovered, me hovering by crowded shelves, imbibing paper perfume.



A writer is one who puts down words.

Captures thoughts, hopes, dreams, fears, facts.

I excel at writing facts, well seasoned with dream. This annual report, it pulls it all together. Digests facts from dozens of sources, numbers crunched in new ways to show clear here, see this? We did this. We did.

Given this, we could do this. We could. I wrote grants, small and large, that spoke of hopes and dreams. Some, most, became fact. Small miracles, but mine, I made them happen, made hopes facts.

Manuals. Illustrated, indexed, tabled. First do this, then this, then that. And this is why. And this is when we started doing it, and why we don’t do that other thing any more. Once upon a time, it was thus. Now thus, trust me, do it thus because this task you do becomes fact on which other people act. So best do it right.

Lately, I have been writing thoughts. It helps to put them down, opens space in my head, reveals logic that I had not previously understood.

I mostly like my brain, it’s very clever and busy. Stuff comes in and rolls around and gets knitted in. Collected, sorted, arranged, emerging in a fabric in an unexpected pattern. Huh.

People seem to like my thoughts, to get my jokes, to respect my grief, my anger, my joy. Huh. So emboldened, I write more.

Lately the thoughts have been patterned differently. More phrases than paragraphs.

My brain is stubborn. It does its own drafts, and when it is good and ready it tells me I may now start writing things down. When there is no pattern, no logic, no passion, my brain does not allow me to write. There are no words running down my wrists to the keyboard or the notepad. There is a closed door. Don’t even, it says.

So to find myself putting out phrases, permitted to send out phrases, that’s new. That’s odd. Huh.

But it seems to be working.

I’ve been calling them poems. No rhyme, no structure, no adherence to the rules of poesy. But still, they tell me they are poems. Huh.

They tell stories, so that’s all right. They go somewhere, they come back around, they spiral in and out.

They begin and they end. And they tell me they are ready enough to come forth.

So I put them down, I make them, and I set them aside. I remain unconvinced.

I seem to be writing poems. But I am not a poet. Have never been. Never planned, studied, toiled. How can this be a poem.

Susan is back. She brings kindness and clarity. She is a writer, a Real Writer.

Published, heard, known.

Susan is back. “Everyone who writes is a real writer,” she says. She corrects my phrasing. she suggests different words, better words. She writes in my margins, she sums up at the foot of my paper. Susan is a Real Teacher. Ask her students.

Susan is back. Holding up a mirror, in kindness and compassion, compelling a vision of truth. Of inner Realness. Susan is a chaplain. Susan makes her life a homily, a practice.

Three good things she writes, every day. Even on days of grief, of pain, of fear, she finds three good things to honor.

And so she leads me to seek three good things in my day.  She leads me, firmly, to reconsider.

Thing one, the words are pouring forth these days.

Thing two, my friends encourage me.

Thing three, I dared and succeeded.

Three very good things.

I dared. I do not often dare, but sometimes.

I dared take the Mighty Mustang to the Kiwi Cowboy challenge and we got third place. We were jubilant.

I dared invite Molly, a tentative friend, to an event in the big city. We met, we spectated, we parted in mutual achievement.

I dared send one of my sort-of poems to said Real Writer. I put it under her nose, as one would leave a piece of paper shyly on the desk of a teacher, inviting scrutiny. Terrified by the prospect of scrutiny.

“Absolutely beautiful.”

And so, under Susan’s stern gaze, I reconsider. I am a Velveteen Writer, I make myself Real. Real in fact, real in verse, perhaps real in fiction. Huh.

Airs above ground, internal

For Judith and her dancing horses

Immersed in noble silence, walking phase

I find myself settling down

Settling in

To a twenty-meter circle

(Human scale, five)

My neck bends, my back lifts

My vision broadens and narrows to this circle

I see the walls pass but I do not look

I focus.

I am focus.

Each step considered as it happens

Each breath

My steps, my breath, my pulse tuned to the circle.

This is important. This matters.

Letting go

Getting this right. Getting the pace, the arch, the lift.

I pale. I become pearl.

(No, too cool, too blue. I am life.)

I am ivory, I am bone, I am warm white.

Built of life, built for life, for strength.

Chronicled in rings, the tale of my becoming holds me, lifts me.

I am light. I am the statue in motion, the perfection of form.

I am become eternity.

This is the quest, to find this perfection in motion, in silent practice.

The beat of heart, or hoof, echoes. But inside, the clack of the wheel as it moves another notch, smoothly forward. Felt, not heard. Noticed. Acknowledged. Carried in, carried on.


Here, I am aware of the world, I see it passing. See other walkers, intent on nonthought. See leaf shadows flicker.

But I am of the world and yet entire in myself.

I think–I do think, I should not think, I should be–I understand why we come here.

Why women mount and ride in twenty-meter circles.

We seek rhythm. We seek control. We seek measured pace, measured step.

We seek the rhythm of poetry moving at a brisk two-beat working trot, at the rocking three-beat canter.

We seek small perfections, those moments when pace and arch and intention flow into that exquisite moment

And flow on

To the next instant of perfection.

I bring myself to a halt.

Neck bent, nostrils wide to catch the world around me.

One ear flickers. A question.

I gather myself, I lift.

All strength poured into perfection

All motion into immobility.

I am art. I hold, hold, still.

The veins pulse the nostrils flare the muscles begin to flutter, and I sink down.

From the pedestal of two legs to the plateau of four.

And I rest. Triumphant, but stilled. I have had the moment, the posture, the expression of force enraptured en levade.

And then I step forth.

Step again into the circle. Into the wheel that spins the world.

The twenty meters where the world is borne, spun, clothed, woven, stirred, swept.

Where the women find their place.

I step.


Asking six hundred thousand

Six hundred twenty thousand dollars

For that place.

Honestly, for that place?

The little farmhouse, larded with the excresence addition, no windows.

Fixed shutters, crude, coarse, wrong.

The garage with the convenience store roof.

Crisp white fences, manicured lawn in front.

The barn repainted.

Ten acres, trees girdled, land overgrazed, pond churned to mudhole.

They’ll get it, of course.

Someone with more money than sense will buy it

Indifferent to the abused history, the misused land.

You can’t make a living off the hobby barn. Too small.

You’ll need to be repainting that fence, again.

You’ll be wanting boarders, well, not wanting, but needing.

People who haven’t yet bought their country property, people who need a place for their horses.

People who treat your house as theirs, your things as theirs, you as their paid help.

People outraged by what you charge, honestly, you should pay them for the honor of having dear Scout in your barn. Well, he kicks, but he’s highly bred.

You might want to be making peace with the neighbors, but they’ll know, of course.

They’ll remember how the house used to be, how many people have tried to make it there.

Shoehorning too many horses onto weary land. Hosting boarders who flounce.

It’s not that kind of neighborhood.  We drive tractors, not sports cars. We talk crops.

We shake our heads.

Six hundred thousand. Six hundred twenty thousand.

Lilac bowl

Now I know that we need lilacs here

That bowl of blossoms carries me beyond the walls.

This room is crisp, small, recent.

Floor of bright golden wood. Walls, ceiling, fixtures, white.

The tub remains lavender below, as it has been the decades we lived here, and before. We freshened it.

Trimmed the whole with a dark mauve, rich and peaceful.

A charming zebra mask, and a small vase with a gazelle, provide purple harmony.

This room shuts out sound from elsewhere in the house. It is always quiet here.

Some day, more of the house will be crisp and quiet, floors entire and warm, cracked walls dormant and windows washed into vision. Some day.

But here, now, a bowl of lilac blossoms beside the sink and carries me forth.


We like to travel on the buckle. I hold just the end, just in case.

Wordless communication continues. I tell him, I trust you. I tell him, enjoy. Relax. Go. Go on.

And so the neck is long and the stride longer. And we go.

Through trees draped with moss. Past stumps of questionable virtue, but I offer assurance, or else scolding, and so we go on.

Along the river, we drift over and stand for a bit, watching. And then move on, downstream, the water sound rushing past our cocked ear.

This is familiar ground. But always, something is new, something is different. And we notice.

Sometimes we merely observe. Sometimes we halt abruptly and stare in concern. Because a closely observed object can be cowed. Sometimes the iron neck must be massaged until the threat diminishes, until the sparrow departs. And then, only then, can we go on.

Sometimes inching, sometimes even backing, rewinding, withdrawing. Sometimes striding again, or lifting into a brisk businessy trot. On.

I hold the buckle still, always. Because things happen. Because reassurance may be needed. Because choices may require dissent.

Years have taught me to gather an instant, to seize that second and hold, hold for the moment, pause for the thought to determine our course.

(Bees, for example, are an excellent reason to flee at speed. We are in full accord on that.)

But rarely do I condone flight. We are fast, we are agile, but we are also smart enough to hold ground and assess.

I like leather. I like the way it slips through fingers, while offering purchase. I like the weight, the texture. I love the scent, I love the ritual cleaning of harness. I love the investment in communication, in adornment, in communing.

Reins come in many styles. I like a simple texture, a lace, as a gauge of transit. But with multiple reins, they had best be smooth, the curb slim enough to be distinct, to sit lightly on my finger.

At work, the reins balance between my crooked fingers and his mouth. I prefer light, but some horses want more, they want a firm support for their bit, for their body, for their balance. He wants me to know when he is mouthing his bit. He has a very agile mouth, always busy, nibbling and mouthing everything within reach. He unties knots, removes tools from back pockets, carries buckets, relocates brushes. I pay attention to his mouth, always. It is endlessly inventive and curious.

Once I rode in a halter. In a group, we all rode in halters and a single lead, changing pace, changing direction, lifting the forehand by simply raising the lead. It was remarkable.

But he and I, we don’t have time to sustain that confidence, that strength of communion. So we go back to a bridle, to reins.

In our own way, alone together in the woods, we commune. We have lengthy conversations with no words. We stand knee-deep in the creek and we sing our happiness together.

Until it is time to move on. Time to go home. Time to be done for today.

So I gather the reins. I close the leg. He sighs, gives me a chance to reconsider, and then, we move on.

He moves back to the trail, back to the circuit, inviting more exploration, unwilling to be done.

But I am done, I am used up for the day, and I intervene.

We turn for home. The reins are shortened, the direction is clear, the control is exercised. The decision is made.

I reign.


Angle of repose

Such a good thing.

An excellent book.

That slope at which a hill will not fall, will not move inexorably down, felling trees, sweeping rocks, engulfing roads, sucking houses into a muddy maelstrom.

That slope at which a hill resides.

Needful for engineering, for mining, for those who see mountains move, who know the consequences.

For the rest of us, that hill just is. Is there.

It is quite absurd that a hill should move.

As absurd that a mountain should explode, or a city tremble and collapse, or a landscape be swept by inferno. Or an ocean rise.

Living here now, I know these things can be true, I have seen the aftermath.

I know that the world changes. People hurt. People die. There is loss.

But we go on. We live still. By the river, by the sea, by the mountain. In knowing that epic change may happen, we go still to the brink.

Being there, being still, we become a fragment of the landscape. Deeper vision, deeper hearing, deeper roots.

Earth abides, and so, presently, do we.

Regardless of wind and water, falling leaves, passing time, we seek our angle of repose.

Relatively immobile, still, while the world moves on about us. Rooted here, in the still.