Shooting horses

The vet with whom I
laugh and swap stories
over tea in the tack room
leaves solemnly this time
touches my arm
rubs my back

The arrangements are made
phone calls fix a day
when the yard kids are at school

I’ve turned the horse out early
in the rising sun
brought him in for
nuts and carrot
cow parsley and mint
the best hay from the top field

I wait to open the gate
for the man with the gun

A good man
always on time
used to this

The ramp is down
my fingers tremble
with the collar
my body leans in
familiar love

There is the man
with the gun in his hand
held slightly behind

A good man
unhurried and fast

But not even when the shot
thuds through the air
do I know

Only when the horse falls
collapses complete on the earth
something else now
something I can’t touch
do I know what I have done

It was the same
when I saw you in that box
I went down on my knees
like a stricken old horse

We had made the phone calls
fixed the date
bought the flowers
chosen hymns

When I saw you in that box
where was the man with the gun
who could have quietly
sent a bullet through my head
and taken me away?

Shooting Horses was in the final judging list (150 from 13,401 entries) National Poetry Competition 2013.