Monday, December 26, 2011

The Old Team

farm horses  - between 1925 - 1935?

My husband and I drove to my brother's house for Christmas Eve.  Our family doesn't get together often, but since Mother died a few years ago we've agreed to meet on that day.  This year I gave my brother a CD copy of the extended family tree, a project I've been working on about five years.  It has photographs, stories, and a cast of several thousand characters going back to pre Revolution days.  Brother wanted to know who all these people were, and that, of course, is what I have been trying to discover since I started the project.  Who are these people, and how do their lives inform us who we are today?  Why bother with events and people long past and often forgotten?

Sometimes there are clues, as with these photos that Mother had kept from our paternal grandparents. There are others of farm animals, horses, and many of chickens and geese.  I suspect my grandmother was the photographer, since she is rarely in the photographs, and she was the one who kept hens for their eggs.  I recognize the corn crib in the background, so I know this picture was taken on our farm.  Perhaps the sleigh was stored in the center, the place where Dad kept a tractor when I was small.  But there is much I don't know.  When did Grandpa finally stop using horses?  Did he keep them out of affection until they finally died, or did he sell them out of economic necessity?  There is nobody to ask any more, so I find myself inventing stories, which is what I sometimes do for people who are distantly related on the family tree.  I gather clues were I can, and make up stories for myself when that is the only thing I can do.

Inventing a Horse
By Meghan O'Rourke

Inventing a horse is not easy.
One must not only think of the horse.
One must dig fence posts around him.
One must include a place where horses like to live;

or do when they live with humans like you.
Slowly, you must walk him in the cold;
feed him bran mash, apples;
accustom him to the harness;

holding in mind even when you are tired
harnesses and tack cloths and saddle oil
to keep the saddle clean as a face in the sun;
one must imagine teaching him to run

among the knuckles of tree roots,
not to be skittish at first sight of timber wolves,
and not to grow thin in the city,
where at some point you will have to live;

and one must imagine the absence of money.
Most of all, though: the living weight,
the sound of his feet on the needles,
and, since he is heavy, and real,

and sometimes tired after a run
down the river with a light whip at his side,
one must imagine love
in the mind that does not know love,

an animal mind, a love that does not depend
on your image of it,
your understanding of it;
indifferent to all that it lacks:

a muzzle and two black eyes
looking the day away, a field empty
of everything but witchgrass, fluent trees,
and some piles of hay.

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