Her Appaloosa, 17 hands tall, stands still, like granite
Slowly, she lifts his leg and drapes it like a ribbon across her worn, leather chaps,
Her arms and hands are prepared for a fight.
Her body ready to dodge one deadly blow that never happens because he trusts her.
Carefully, she cleans and files with a watchmaker’s precision
Each movement a memory reminding her to be ready for a fight that never happens because he trusts her.
From the shadows I watch morning light fall from above, tumbling over her bandana-covered head, and then across her shoulder where long blond hair once rested.
Her chaps shine like blemished gold.
Her tools reflect their aged usefulness.
I reflect on last night, how after we argued her calloused fingers brushed away tears I shed over something more powerful than a 17-hand horse--over something neither of us can control.
It was nothing like the fights we had not so long ago,
The fights about cleaning stalls, or my room, or what time I had to be home,
The fights when someone had to win.
Now, in this morning’s light, I watch her from a safe distance with respect, wishing I had let her teach me her skill, her art—
An art passed to her from her father and her father’s father, and now, to no one.
Reluctantly, I interrupt her rhythm, “It’s time to go.” She nods.
In her usual, methodical finishing, she releases his leg
Pats his hindquarters to say, “We’re done,”
Stretches her back, accustomed to years of discomfort
Puts away her tools, just as her father kept them,
And leads the Appaloosa back into his stall.
He goes willingly because he trusts her.
One hour and two doctors later, midday sun falls from a window above us, tumbling quietly between IVs in her arms and over her shoulder where long blond hair once rested.
For three hours, her body drinks in chemo
She asks me mother questions.
I ask her daughter questions.
In the afternoon,
After a rest she never used to take,
I find her mending fences
20 acres out
Where she fights something I cannot see
Where she trusts in her own strength
Where she tries not to need me.
Among these fallen fences and this afternoon light
Where I watch her mind and body fight something more complicated than tangled barbed wire
We work side-by-side in a comfortable silence
I brush away silent tears, like sweat,
And I wish that I had learned to trust her long before now
Before the calluses
And especially before the day she left her fingerprints on my face gently, a face wet with fear, and said,
“Daughter, I can beat this. Trust me.”
*A poem I wrote in 2006 after meeting a woman farrier in Colorado.