Holly Mitchell


Holly Mitchell is a poet from Kentucky. A winner of an Amy Award from Poets & Writers and a Gertrude Claytor Prize from the Academy of American Poets, she earned an MFA in Creative Writing from New York University and a BA in English from Mount Holyoke College. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Narrative Magazine, Paperbag, Washington Square Review, and other journals. She lives in New York.


Turning Out (The First Year)

The farm hands move
the mares with foals,
pulling them by halter
to the back paddock.
The dams have waited
for this opening. They paced
in the barn’s smallnesses
for months. They crave more
tender grass, more sisterhood.
Their foals know just milk
& trying to keep pace.
The herd watches. They are
broodmares but barren
this year, maybe all years.
They’re the too-old
& too-young. They wait
until someone shows them
what to do. At dusk,
the cool air picks up
hair on everyone’s legs.
The hands open the gate.
The mothers canter
& their foals learn the steps
almost in the same motion.
This is turnout.
From the herd, the new
alpha mare steps forward.
She blocks them with her body,
sixteen hands tall, built
for running distance. She hasn’t
given birth or let go
of her sense of order yet.
Through the field, she chases
dams she once knew,
foals she has smelled
but never been allowed
to touch. She almost catches
some flesh in her stride,
almost corners the others
in tines of wire fence.
The mothers rear up.
Behind their shaking legs,
the young narrow themselves.
It isn’t natural.
The hands running
to catch a horse by the slips
of leather on her moving face.
It doesn’t work. All this
is animal. They spook &
maybe bruise until
tired. The herd splits
for good, hundreds of teeth
snapping on two sides
of the warped fence.

My family moved to a horse farm when I was a teenager. This poem is one of many exploring the failures, language, and knowledge that came out of that experience.