Sestina For Lost Horses

Three stray horses pace by the fence, halting now and then to listen.

Breaths pluming in cold air, eyes alert,

they've wandered from someone's herd.

Each autumn fences snap: restraints

fall, grass dies in fettered light, limits

seem ambiguous for a time. But limits

are real for domestic horses; the fence

defines them. Crossing the hill against

restraints,

they pause near a low mound to listen,

anxious for sounds from a distant herd.

Three neglected horses, wandering, alert

for broken strands of wire, alert,

though they've been conditioned by limits.

In them an instinct lives; another herd

has etched a path from travel by the fence;

it cuts the hill below the mound. I listen;

hooves heartbeat packed earth. Restraints

are recent in these hills. Restraints

like fences appeared when settlers, alert

for dangers in an untried place and listen-

ing with civilized ears, imposed limits,

grids, and signatures of ownership: a fence

distinguished man from the amorphous herd.

Here, Indians once hunted buffalo; a herd

could sustain them, and no restraints

like deeds, plats, or a barbed wire fence

held them. They lived in rhythms, alert

to loss or gains in seasons. Their limits

now are fragile graves in hills. I listen;

the horses whinny by the gate and listen,

too. I feel their plight; a scattered herd

is vulnerable with winter near. Not limits,

but touching with their kind, not restraints

but warmth might ease their longing. Alert,

they climb by the mound, pause at the fence,

and call again, seeking a herd beyond limits

and restraints. Alert, breasts hard against

the steel spurs on the fence, they listen.

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