A Figure

I’ve always seen the horse as stronger than her. She once killed
a kitten with her feet—not my mother, the horse in her stall,
when the kitten, blind and mapless, wandered in. But my mother

could have killed it, if it came to that, just as she’s killed the pain
of betrayal by the two stalks that hold her upright, by far not
her first betrayal in this life. First the knees and now the hips.

She could have been a permanently praying crone on her
then unbending knees. After her hips, she should have been
a fixed stone figure, hands thrown up to something unearthly.

But she turns to the earthly, working to lift the right leg and then
left over the wooden threshold that is the stall where the kitten
died and my horse’s plate-sized hooves nestle into pine chips.

All she wants is to stand next to her, to place her hand beneath her
tattered mane, to take some of the bristling white hair with her,
ribbons of achievement. To, for a moment, use the horse as her third

leg for then she would have six, even better than the three, she thinks,
she works with now. What a sight she’d be using a horse for a cane,
having a horse for new legs. She could be modern myth. A figure

mothers would tell their daughters of, not to fear something larger
than them like failing bones or time or horses, but to take them
in stride; the stride my mother is working to regain. But that takes
time my mother doesn’t believe she has, though she would never say so.


Katherine Gaffney completed her M.F.A. at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Her work has previously appeared and is upcoming in Nimrod International Journal, Kettle Blue Review, Meridian, jubilat, and elsewhere. Her manuscript, “No One Thought of Birds” was a semi-finalist for the 2019 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize from Persea Books. Most recently, she was the winner of the 2020 Mississippi Review Prize for her poem “Quickening (Or Motherhood: an Absence).”