Back to Issue Forty

Horses on the Surface



Hours after my father died,
I walked to Walmart for water

and, carrying the weight,

stepped onto an armadillo’s
crushed shell. There was nothing

between us but bright air

and the stuck image of my father’s
open mouth. By the end

of this movie, I said to the armadillo,

you will be reborn as a horse,
and the paper tangled

in your claws will be a distant

memory. In my father’s bed,
I drank a cup of water, wearing

the white t-shirt he died in.

Look at us now, I said, grief
making me think in rings,

we’re the same. Last year,

my father and I drove
down Highway 7, farm animals

only in focus once they were

in the rearview mirror, like space
and time were consolations

we’d never need to receive.

I turned the radio to a song
I hoped my father would remember,

and I promised the impossible—

we weren’t going anywhere
anytime soon. Hours after

my father died, his face in profile

imprinted on my mind—his t-shirt,
no longer damp from a last bath,

held the smell of his living body.

Come back, I said, but he didn’t.
Driving past them last year,

the horses on the field’s surface

were each other’s givens,
their necks bent in instinct

with no need to look up.



Melissa Cundieff is the author of Darling Nova, selected by Alberto Ríos for the 2017 Autumn House Press Poetry Prize. She teaches at Macalester College and University of Minnesota and is currently writing a book of poems about, among other things, her father’s death in 2020 from Alzheimer’s disease. Her poems, nonfiction, fiction, and drawings have appeared in places such as Best of the Net, Los Angeles Review, Southern Humanities Review, Ninth Letter, and The Adroit Journal. She lives in Saint Paul, MN.

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