Patricia Kirkpatrick grew up in Des Moines and graduated from the University of Iowa and San Francisco State University. She has received awards from the NEA, the Bush Foundation, the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Loft-McKnight and the Jerome Foundation. She teaches in the MFA program at Hamline University, and has also taught and conducted workshops at Macalester College, the Princeton Theological Seminary and the Loft. She lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota with her family.
I was particularly drawn to this poem of hers, because I knew I could actually see the source of her inspiration. After reading the poem, scroll down to see a picture of the Spirit Horse in question.
Letter to the Spirit Horse
after the Haniwa Horse, Japan, fifth century A.D.
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
You were made to go with the dead
to the spirit world.
But one thousand five hundred years
has brought you children
sitting in a circle on the floor.
When they draw, their pencils waver
over their papers like antennae
to outline the bells on your rump, your tail
as stiff as a tusk, the shoulder holes tuneling to
emptiness inside you. When the dead depart,
stranded alone, but intact
and sturdy as a cooking pot,
your ears pricked and open like snouts,
your legs loped and tubular as beach kelp.
The children look up from their brief seat
of childhood. They want apples and grass
to feed you, alfalfa and clover
to grow at your feet, a fellow
creature to press against your clay muzzle.
Forgive us for keeping you
all this time in the only world
we can picture.
– “Letter to the Spirit Horse,” by Patricia Kirkpatrick, from her collection of poems title Century’s Road, published by Holy Cow! Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
Haniwa Horse, Kofun period
Image courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts