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
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.