Red Horse

By Ellen Chavez Kelley

Navajo Nation

His last day an old man whittles
wood for his grandson, conjures
a horse from a chunk of high desert, stains
its coat mesa-red, speckles its back like a pheasant’s,
adds a bit of hair for mane and tail,
gives it to the child who now holds in his hand

this horse shaped by his grandfather’s hand
and he slips out early, this boy,
and finds you, Red Horse, as if his grandfather’s
gift had brought you, waiting
on the freshly powdered plain, your hooves
printing haloes on the ice. The boy climbs
on your back, one hand still clutching

the wooden horse.  With a moss-soft
nicker you carry him through juniper,
Ponderosas. Staring up at the trees,
the boys thinks, tall, like horses.  He hears
a blueblack herd gallop through the clouds,
sees shadows hover in the shape of horses,
even pinyon smoke, to this boy, is scented
like horses.  You take him through canyons
to the family’s sheep, a good ride, and he knows

that when he grows older and goes to places
you are not, Red Horse, to strange places
where this place is not, he will keep close
the wooden horse, your likeness shaped
by his grandfather’s hand, that he might call you
to lead him home.

Ellen Chavez Kelley, teaches poetry at UCSB and through California Poets in the Schools. Publications include Song for Highway 40 (Turning Point, 2012) and In the Body of the Grove (2008). Ellen’s picture book My Life as a Chicken (Harcourt, 2012) was a finalist for the California Young Readers Award. Also by this poet: "Elegy for the Groves" and "Faces"