Old Man by Linda Drattell White hairs pepper his sepia forehead below a thinned black mane. They cover the nether side of his throat like an old man’s goatee, light eyeshadow near dark eyes still large and curious, a chalky accent along the lean muscle of his neck, a patch here and there above his fetlocks, the side of one hock. War injuries, not age, the erectness of his posture suggests. The winter months are approaching, a time of year when he quickly loses heft. I monitor his eating closely, watch him slowly nibble his grain, prod him to eat more. His muzzle works methodically, slipping food past worn molars no longer capable of chewing. The farrier laughs when she comes to trim his hooves. Nothing to trim, she says, He shuffles like an old man. His hind legs cross as he rambles. I watch him head slowly to the far corner of the field then double back at a happy gait, not exactly a run, proud of his stride, nonetheless. He has a thing for the mares, neighs, expects them to respond– they glance at him for a second, go back to grazing. He makes an effort to rear up, tries to jump the fence separating him from them though he’d been gelded ages ago. Perhaps he’s forgotten. He has an agenda. Dirty old man, the barn manager calls him. I remember how we used to ride through lush east coast forest, sail through the air over fallen logs, pass between trees with barely enough space for his torso and my legs, eat mulberries from low-hanging branches, avoid stinging nettle. Once, we encountered a lone hiker with a monstrous backpack the color of algae– a fast lope brought to an abrupt stop, a surprised hello, her warning about a copperhead poking his head out of the creek. I look at his frail legs and am reminded of the year he foundered, coffin bone twisted in the hoof, padded high-heeled horseshoes, special diet, minimal exercise. I remember the lightning complex fires, his evacuation, the helicopters, the pregnant cow escaping the stall next to his. I don’t know how much longer I’ll have him. Arthritis is rearing its own ugly head. Still, he shows off a feisty side usually kept well-hidden. Some have suggested I need to let him go, the winter will be very hard, loss is a part of life. He looks up from his bucket of grain, gazes at me with kind eyes. A bit rusty but I’ve still got it in me, he says, give me a second. He presses his muzzle against my cheek, a kiss. Old age is nothing, he reassures me.
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I write poetry because I want to record–not document what happened on a particular day, but describe what I felt on a particular day, especially with regard to how a relationship changed, strengthened, or withered. I want to remember the nature of my connections to the people, animals and things around me. When all is said and done, though, I write poetry to escape reality, then read other people’s poetry to escape reality. Each morning, I read at least one new poem. I hope to create a similar distraction for someone else, a chance to smile or nod, a break from the quotidian before getting on with their day.
I wrote the poem, “Old Man,” while watching my 33-year old horse devour his dinner, a bucketful of grain. He cannot digest grass or hay any longer. I’ve had him since he was five, and we’ve grown together like an old couple – he and I know each other so well. Gentle moves by one are understood by the other. We’ve learned to deal with each other’s moods, give the other space, lean against one other when we need it. I wanted to describe that, what went into our relationship over the years to bring us to where we are today, very comfortable in the other’s presence, needing the other’s friendship.
I’ve been deafened since my thirties, and have had to relearn to navigate social, professional, and family relationships. I’ve chronicled this process through my writings for a couple of anthologies, newsletters and magazines. I am a member of both the California Writers Club/Tri-Valley Writers Branch and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.