At the Track, 1945
Behold row upon row of shed row stalls
hunkered in early morning mist,
as Dave threads his way to the office,
newspaper clipping in hand,
an ad for an experienced “Hotwalker.”
Listen to the cigar-reeking foreman,
You been on tracks before?
Okay, be here 5 A.M. See Milly for pay. There’s
a hot one now. Go walk ‘em ‘til he’s dry.
Watch this teen-ager who knows nothing
but that he is mad for horses
saunter to the fogged-in track, enter
a new world. See him learn to handle
high-strung Thoroughbreds, catch the eye
of Johnny, a no-nonsense lady trainer,
become her trusted trainee. Observe
as he learns to muck stalls, feed, trailer
tough animals, earn pin money for college.
Through the thin wall of its chrysalis
you can see a monarch’s true colors.
Wagon Train to Paradise, September 1973
The phone rings as Dave and I collect ourselves
from another busy lend-out session.
Hello, is this Dr. David Goodman?
This is State Trooper Hargrove. I’m sorry to tell you
there’s been an accident.
Dave looks at me, his face tight as a strait jacket.
Where are the kids?
I’ll get them. The trooper continues,
One of your horses has fallen out of a truck and been hit
by a tractor-trailer. I’m afraid the horse is dead, sir.
Dave, calmer now, Where are you?
Route 202 at Oakland Road, in front of
“The Farmer in the Dell.”
(Geez, Dave thinks, the kids love that place—fake silo,
peanut shells all over the floor…It’s only half a mile
from the farm…) We’ll be right there.
We pile into our crew-cab pickup,
all four children in the backseat,
arrive into chaos. Wagon Train, buckskin coat
scraped and bruised, eyes and mouth open, lies
in a splatter of blood
in the middle of the highway,
traffic backed up both directions.
Police emergency lights flash. People stand around,
gaping. Our children stay close.
The trooper explains that just as the borrower
and his family pulled onto the highway
with Wagon Train secured in their stake-bodied truck,
a tractor-trailer pulled up to pass them. The horse
panicked, fell against the stake side
which gave way, ejecting him onto the road
beneath the 40-ton truck. He died instantly.
Taylor is on his way, the trooper tells us.
We know him—the man who retrieves dead
large animals for rendering. I look around.
Spectators whisper. In the borrower’s truck
with the broken side and broken
dreams, two young children plaster teary faces
to the windows.
Our own children understand. Their farm lives
expose them to such unsugared reality.
I speak to the children’s father,
I’m sorry, Mr. Hodges. This is hard for your children.
Life is cruel sometimes. There is an ache in my stomach.
Taylor arrives with engine roaring, backs up
to the dead horse, clangs
a heavy chain out of the truck,
hooks it around Wagon Train’s neck, inch
by inch winches his heavy body
into the truck. We all cringe
as the horse’s teeth scrape
along the asphalt, head and body bump
up the ramp.
Taylor closes the truck. All we can see
are a few black tail hairs sticking out
through a crack. As he drives away
they tremble in the breeze.
Patricia L. Goodman is a widowed mother, grandmother and great grandmother and a graduate of Wells College with a degree in Biology and membership in Phi Beta Kappa. She spent her career breeding, training and showing horses with her orthodontist husband, on their farm in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. She now lives in northern Delaware, where she enjoys writing, singing, birding, gardening and spending time with her family. Many of her poems have been published in both print and online journals and anthologies and she was the 2013 and 2014 winner of Delaware Press Association’s Communications Contest in poetry. She teaches Advanced Poetry Writing with her friend and colleague Betsey Cullen at Wilmington’s Osher Institute of Lifelong Learning. Her first full-length book of poetry Closer to the Ground, was a finalist in the Dogfish Head Poetry Contest, and was published in August, 2014 by Main Street Rag Publishing Company. In 2015 she received her first Pushcart nomination. Her second book, Walking with Scissors was published in February, 2019, by Kelsay Books. A third book waits in the wings. Much of her inspiration comes from the natural world she loves.