Welcome to Sunday Morning Lyricality, featuring a weekly song or poem by a Minnesota writer. Our current guest editor is Beth Spencer.

I was so taken with the metonymy of Gretchen Marquette’s lovely poem, “Slow Horse,” which speaks clearly to the elderly, and to those who love the elderly. She pointedly, but gently, turns us toward the limitations of aging and to the accommodations the aged must make for bodies not as able as they once were. Gretchen reminds us though that even the old have “wild” memories and she shows us how delight still comes from unexpected places.
However, the author of this poem had another take. She writes, “My friend Jim Moore told me that a gentle, sort of teasing way to call someone a jackass is to call them a slow horse. I was feeling bewildered by romantic relationships, and even though I wasn’t happy pursuing them, I kept doing it anyway. The poem was a way for me to (mostly good-naturedly) call myself out for making the same mistake again and again, but also acknowledge that (sometimes painful) bewilderment I felt.
Isn’t poetry wonderful?

–Beth Spencer

Slow Horse
Gretchen Marquette

Slow horse keeps eating grass 
even after it’s turned bitter and white. 
She understands prayer as the sun 
pulling the scent of dust from her coat. 
Slow horse takes the long way, 
stands in the creek, mud to fetlock.
Slow horse is wild with all the memory 
of wild horses in the space behind her eyes. 
She can’t breathe through her mouth, waits
until a hard rain and watches it soak 
the dirt. She wears no rider, crushes 
blossoms under her weight. Slow horse drinks 
the coldest water despite painful teeth, 
won’t sleep standing, risks lying
on her side. Slow horse is relieved it’s autumn.
She can read shadows of birds 
without lifting her head. Her own shadow 
is a root being pulled. Slow horse finds 
hoof prints of the others filled with water, 
orients herself once each day, at dusk.
She finds the sun has set and cooled 
the sweat on her back. Her hide twitches 
at the slightest imagined touch.  Slow horse
pulls out her silver hair, wakes somewhere new.


Gretchen Marquette is the author of May Day (Graywolf Press, 2016.) Her poetry has appeared in PoetryHarper’s, the Paris ReviewTin House, PBS Newshour, and elsewhere. She lives in Minneapolis. 

“Slow Horse” was previously published by the Georgia Review and will appear in Gretchen Marquette’s new manuscript. Used with permission of the author.