Imagining It by Kate Barnes
At eighteen, in Paris,
I just woke up out of a dream
just before dawn, and stepped through the long window
from my cold room with its red silk walls.
Shivering a little in my dressing gown,
I leaned on the balustrade
and, look, overnight a light snow had fallen;
no car had driven over it yet, it lay in the street
as white, as innocent, as snow on the open fields.
Then something approached with a calm rhythm
of hoof-beats made softer by the snow, the sound
of a quiet heart. It was a heaped-up wood cart
pulled by a gray horse who walked along slowly,
head down, while the driver
sat at the back of one shaft and hunched over
to light his cigarette.
From above, I saw clearly
the lit match in the old man's cupped hands, its glow
on his long jaw, the small well of flame
between his living palms like the flare
of the soul in his body. He went on
down the street, and the sky went on
growing lighter, and I saw how he left
his dark tracks behind him on the whiteness
of the snow, just the lines of the two wheels,
slightly wavering, and the dints of the horse's hooves
between them, a writing in an undiscovered
language, something whose meaning
we feel sure we know, and still can't quite
When I stepped inside again,
I stopped thinking about love for a minute — I thought about it
almost all the time then — and thought instead
about being alive for a while in a world
with cobblestones, new snow, and the unconscious
poem printed by hooves on the maiden street.
Of course I was not yet ready to be grateful.
"Imagining It" by Kate Barnes, from Where the Deer Were. © David R. Goldine, Publisher, Inc., 1994.