During the last decade of my life, I was blessed with a friend named Brenda McKeand. She was a talented writer and poet, as well as a very committed nurse. She was also a tremendous encourager, and she was one of my greatest cheerleaders as I made my ventures into authorship.
Brenda is with the Lord now, but she left us her work, which keeps her alive in our midst. Several of the pieces are poems that she collected into a book entitled, The Summer of Riding Horses: About Nursing and Other Things. The “other things” have to do with love of every kind. The individual poem from which she took the title is a love story of the first order. Powerful and touching, it is one of my favorites of all of her work. I’d like to share it with my readers.
For those of you who are familiar with the midwestern U. S. the setting to which she refers will be clear. If you are not familiar, I will tell you that Paducah is the name of a fairly large city on the northern edge of Kentucky. It sits right on the Ohio River, and the whole area is about a two-hour drive south of the town where I live now – and where Brenda lived all the time I knew her. During the last part of the 1800’s and early part of the 1900’s, the whole area was an entryway into the states of Illinois and Indiana when peoples from several nationalities, including Native Americans, came down the river, moving west, looking for a better way of life.
Paducah itself has many wonderful memories for me personally. My mother lived there as a young woman, and she told me stories of being a waitress in the largest hotel in Paducah. She was one of many “girls” who served guests “ham and red-eye gravy” that Brenda describes so colorfully. I agree that the city and the surrounding area provide the perfect setting for her poem.
I met him at the river where Paducah lies,
with its magnolia trees, ham, and red-eye gravy
served by girls with soft southern accents.
He was part Indian, with sun-seasoned skin
and dark pony tail;
All denim and silver, he wore turquoise
around his neck on a black string.
Here, I learned to love horses –
to feel them tremble and shiver,
smelling of leather saddles,
sweat, and hay-scented stables –
and ride down country lanes
with shifting shadow patterns,
and leaves flitting down.
He grew restless in the fall,
making a bow I dared not touch,
as he would no longer touch me.
He drank the black tea,
purifying for the hunt
in the Cherokee tradition –
asking the deer’s permission
to take its life
to let him go.
© 2010 Brenda McKeand