Horse Cemetery

By Denton Loving

On the far side of my family's farm,
across the pasture and in the deepest 
stretch of the western woods,
there was once a horse cemetery.  My dad 
always commented on it when we walked 
the fence lines, once built for horses 
but now used for cows.
I wanted to see the horses' bleached white bones.
I needed to prove there had once been horses
where tractors and trucks now toiled.

This is the most undesirable land
on the property, which made it a good place 
to leave a horse when he was too old 
to plow a field, too tired to pull a buggy.
I've read about the hollow place 
behind a horse's skull where the barrel 
of a gun should be lodged 
to bring the least suffering. 

I never found the horses' bones
among the hillside's rocky ground, 
and I was too young to understand 
how long it had been since there were men
who kept horses and needed, wretchedly, 
an out-of-the-way place to put one to rest.

Now, the cows hide here in summer 
when the heat of midday lasts all day long.
It's shady and cool in this gully of hickories and oaks, 
hemlocks and pines.  It is usually unexpected
when one of the lovely sisters passes.  We drag her 
to the wood's edge, cover her with branches
and stones, form an old-fashioned cairn.  The wood
decomposes with the body.  The stones roll away.
Sometimes a bone is found in the hayfield, 
brightened white by the sun like the horse bones 
I imagined finding when a boy.
These bones are carried by dogs or coyotes 
or red foxes with white-tipped tails.  
The great mounds, over time, grow less great,
as easily forgotten as the beasts beneath.

These days, I walk the boundary lines 
without my father.  How many years longer 
will cattle pasture here before the land 
is sub-divided and lived off of
in yet a different way ? I worry 
someday there might be a boy like I was 
who can't believe this place was once a farm 
with fields of cattle and a way of life 
that faded like the sun over the western woods
where there was once a horse cemetery.


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About Denton Loving

Denton Loving lives on a farm near the historic Cumberland Gap, where Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia come together. He works at Lincoln Memorial University, where he co-directs the annual Mountain Heritage Literary Festival and serves as executive editor of drafthorse: the literary journal of work and no work. His fiction, poetry and reviews have appeared in Appalachian Heritage, Minnetonka Review, Main Street Rag and in numerous anthologies including Degrees of Elevation: Stories of Contemporary Appalachia.

3 Comments

  1. Marylin Schultz
    Posted February 2013 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    Denton,
    As a Wyoming lover of horses, I appreciate your wonderful poem! You are a gifted poet! I now must share it with my friends, whom I know will like it as much as I do. The bond between humans with the animals that have served them well must be just as close, if not even more so, than that of just “pets.”

  2. Patrick Caruana
    Posted May 2013 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed your poem very much. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Margaret Newman
    Posted August 2013 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Very sweet nostalgic piece about a way of rural life that is changing, not for the good, but for the commercialism that gobbles up our land.

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