There’s something about horses at Christmas. It’s in the dark eyes I think, the stillness, the mix of warm breath and magic on a crisp winter morning. I’m fortunate that wherever I’ve lived, there have always been horses nearby in fields or stables. Being able to stand with them for a moment, rub their necks and manes or feed them carrots and apples, stirs something in my soul that I can’t explain. It’s like entering a church or sacred place, there’s a spiritual hush that comes and takes you out of your own reality and puts you into the wild and earthy presence of something otherworldly. Gorgeous creatures.
I remember being snowed in one Christmas. I lived in a cottage in the forest, about two hours drive away from family and friends and unable to travel, I spent a couple of days alone with my dog. On Christmas morning, we walked out through the Scots pine (ouch!) and fir, heavy with snow and reached a clearing at the top of the hill where my neighbours three horses were waiting. A mare, her yearling and a cheeky friend. The animals touched noses and we all stood reading one another’s thoughts, lashes frosty in the wakening light. The horses’ steaming breath on my hands, their snorting nostrils calming to slow inhalations, hooves prodding the frozen ground beneath, everything was sonorous with snow. Later, thumbing through an anthology, I came across this poem by English poet Henry Shukman. It was his attempt to write about his new born son. His poems have appeared in The Guardian, The Times and The London Review Of Books and his first poetry collection, In Dr. No’s Garden, was published by Cape in 2003. As a fiction writer he has published two novels, Sandstorm in 2006 and The Lost City which was a Guardian Book Of The Year. I’ve paired it with the traditional folk carol Let Us The Infant Greet by Loreena McKennit, hope you enjoy it 🙂 Happy Christmas! – Feliz Navidad! – Frohe Weihnacten! – Buon Natale! – Sona Nollag! – Kala Hristouyienna! – Joyeax Noel!
HORSES AT CHRISTMAS
By Henry Shukman
In our little house Creedence were singing
About the old cotton fields, the baby
Was flat on his back in front of the fire,
Eyes swimming with flame.
Christmas morning, and you were at church.
I thought of going to join you late,
But instead took the baby up to the horses.
Out in the field he started crying.
Maybe I should have taken him to the bath
Of stone, the discipline of a saviour, the sanctuary
Of hymns –
But the horses saved us.
To be close to them, so tough and nothing
To do with us, and their breathing all over him,
And the flaking mud on their necks
Where they had rolled, and the sucking of hooves
As they walked the sodden field.
The horses with their long heads,
Underwater eyes, watched us watch them.
Then they turned, drumming the field,
Leaving us alone – the damp morning
All about, the soaked grass under foot,
The baby’s diaphanous ears going pink in the cold
As silence bowed back to earth.