Louder, Please

     Snow is silence made visible.

     —Margaret Gibson

It’s coming down, and the horse won’t go
inside his stall. Maybe he likes the way it falls,
wets and settles on his back like a saddle. He trots
back and forth in the paddock—and I think pacing
at the sound of plows coming on. I still don’t understand
behavior the way I’d like to. Can he bite
in anything but anger? This morning, finally,
his teeth broke the skin of my forearm, brandishing
a small red stitch and lump. It stung, but made
no sound. Teachers always asked me to speak up. If I said
what I thought today out loud, they’d know I wonder
too much about myself. What would become of me, here,
if he died? A cat is a cloud with bones in it. A horse
is another story. Would he go off like a dog
into the woods? Would he lie down? Would it be
a silence or a moan in the ground? Do we bury them?
Reagan was the barn girl who knew
everything about horses, or said she did, and we
believed her. When she stepped in, took over tacking
because we moved too slow, we let her. Her hands
replaced ours. Her voice spread like gravel, putting its chains
on. We let her slap Hawk’s neck and yell when he swung
around to bite at the girth’s tight cinching. I’ve known
other incarnations of her, and wanted their voices
for my own. Command, beautiful, when it falls
loud from the mouth of even the scrawniest girl. Reagan rode
the horses out every year into the arena
for the Christmas party. Presented the wreathed necks
as gifts to the girls lucky enough to receive them.
They shrieked in surprise. Did they really not know?
I knew there wouldn’t be one ridden out for me, the gift
too visible. But I’d be lying if I shrugged and said
I didn’t want it. When summer came around, barn girls
flew like dirt daubers, braiding tails and filling
water troughs, and I stood still for a moment, unsure where
to go. The voice caught me, asked if I could talk. I turned,
in my desire to speak, to snow.

Quinn Lewis’s poems appear, or will soon, in the Southern Review, Cave Wall, Birmingham Poetry Review, Best New Poets, and elsewhere. She’s the recipient of a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation, a Claudia Emerson Scholarship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and RADAR Poetry’s 2019 Coniston Prize. She teaches in the English Department at SUNY Oneonta.