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Pat Riviere-Seel is the author of three poetry collections, including Nothing Below but Air and The Serial Killer’s Daughter, which won the Roanoke-Chowan Award. She taught for 15 years in the University of North Carolina Asheville’s Great Smokies Writing Program. She served as the North Carolina Poetry Society’s Distinguished Poet in the Western Region from 2016-2018. In 2017 she received the “Charlie Award” from the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival. Before earning her MFA from Queens University of Charlotte, she worked as a newspaper journalist, an editor, a publicist, and a lobbyist.
“I choose this earth that breaks / my heart again and again,” Pat Riviere-Seel writes. When There Were Horses addresses the ways in which we can do that, while acknowledging that, “it cannot last, of course”. Circling around “what to tell” and “the truth we didn’t dare” in quiet, beautifully-honed lines, Riviere-Seel brings readers with her through loss after loss to the knowledge that “further out is the only way back.” –Catherine Carter
When There Were Horses is an exhilarating ride through the deep woods of love and loss, desire and death. From that first poem, I was more than happy to grab “a fistful of mane, urging faster faster!” These poems are overflowing with motion, and yet, contain a stillness, a center where the voice of wisdom creates solid ground. “Abandon/the dock, row your way into the nightmare, further/out is the only way back,” she writes. ~Malaika King Albrecht
These poems come from a poet at the height of her powers, able to swim into deep pools of the senses and the deeper pools of understanding, subtle and complex as multiple ripples spreading and rebounding on the surface of a pond. These are poems to come for the pure pleasure in words and rhythms and play, then return again and again, for the intimate whisperings of a truer life under the surfaces of things. ~Marjorie Hudson, author of Accidental Birds of the Carolinas
INTO THE NIGHT
The chestnut mare rests her chin
on my left shoulder, nuzzles my neck
with her velvet nose as I stroke her forehead.
We walk a dirt track side by side
I know she’s fast, but tonight
we take our time. She lifts my left ankle
with her hoof, breathes out
stars that swirl around us while we spin
through an unexplored galaxy –
I try to read each star’s wish.
Once, when I was twelve-years-old and horse crazy,
I rode my best friend’s roan
bareback across a meadow, letting the wind
tangle my curls, burn my cheeks as I clutched
a fistful of mane, urging faster faster!
That girl did not know or care where she was going.
Now, my dream mare’s sun-soaked hay scent
calms me. I wake to a peace I have not known,
the mare and I still bound,
traveling down an unremembered road.
First she reclaims the garden,
tangled north facing plot
where summer comes slow.
The root cellar holds cloudy jars
neatly stacked on wooden shelves.
A neighbor bush-hogs the brambles,
the wild blackberries, the weeds
grown tangled from neglect.
A storage shed keeps stories of better
days wrapped in cobwebs and dust.
An artist whose medium is dirt walks
behind his Gravely tractor turning soil
while she follows raking, breaking clods of clay.
Together they carve a spiral and dig
keyholes for herbs. The man plows long rows.
Autumn she plants buckwheat, begins
a compost pile. Winter she curls into the sofa,
reads seed catalogues and stokes the fire.
Spring brings blueberry bushes, flats of basil.
She plants by the moon and dreams of chickens.
A tree trimmer prunes the apple tree’s branches
split by winter winds and ice. Order brings its own
regrets, but she cannot resist the impulse.
Sunrise she kneels between the rows pulling weeds
from soil still damp with dew, thinks to stay awhile.
WHEN THERE WERE HORSES
I miss the hammocks,
the teenagers swinging between trees,
high pitched laughter, urgent talk.
Sometimes at night their joy would float
through the house’s open windows.
They were so alive, innocence sweet
as freshly cut hay, the future an unnamed galaxy.
Riders still gallop horses across the field,
into the woods. But now empty picnic tables
replace hammocks along the perimeter.
Last week a man spent two days mowing,
mechanical hum measuring the hours.
Today, when I walked out near dusk,
a black Mercedes parked beside the gate.
In the middle of the field, a man
and a woman lay on a blanket,
feeding each other sunbaked brie
spread on a French baguette.
Maybe they are lovers who
will wait until the sun sets,
then shed their clothes, offer
their bodies to God, desire unbridled.
When there were horses stabled here
there was a cat that asked
for love the way cats do
running figure eights around
your legs, arching her back.
I loved like that once. The man
said he had always loved me. Maybe
he had. Maybe he never loved me.
It no longer matters what is true.
I head back to the house, searching
for the car now lost in darkness.