Common Ancestor

after Christopher Gilbert

I forget the night         the horse was born whole

and sprinting    out from its mother

as if      she were a burning barn

I forget            I was a human daughter then

with a salt lick in my palm

the beast          mistook for moon

I forget how grandmother       was chased

around the earth          by a bad spirit  bent

on killing her girl-children       during birth

I forget I made it here              because she lived

they all lived          out-lived husbands 

widowed hooves          thrown into wind so strong

I forget it         Like I did their maiden names

I ask for them now                  to begin

calling  to my future       children who

I forget            would then be named

after     a distant flock

of fathers         and husbands that

I forget on purpose         How far back

do I have to go to find

a mother’s true name     where no one ever uttered

“I forgot her”              after it?

Farther      than where our common ancestor

with horses      lived?

I forget            how far for me                 

isn’t far at all            for the legs of horses

or for      seeds  salt  soil   mountains  ice

I forget            at one point

we were family with everything

Birth being       a molten bubble in the sea

I forget mother            was once the only name

for a home       that had to be on fire

to be had            at all


Shelby Handler is a writer and educator living on Duwamish territory/Seattle, WA. They are a 2020 Richard Hugo House fellow and incoming MFA candidate at the University of Washington. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Poetry Northwest, PANK, Sugar House Review, The Journal, Gigantic Sequins, among others. Follow them @shelbeleh.