Wild Horses

by Paisley Rekdal

Paisley RekdalReligious

Seraph Young Ford, Maryland, 1887
First woman to vote in Utah and the modern nation, February 14, 1870.

I am known, if at all, for a moment’s
pride: first American woman
in the modern nation
to vote though at the time

I wasn’t considered American
by all. Not modern, either,
but Mormon, one
the East Coast suffragists had hoped

would vote Utah’s scourge of polygamy
out. But plural marriage
was on no ballot
I ever saw. Why would it be,

my mother asked, when men
make laws and shape
their women’s choice in freedoms?
And how changeable

those freedoms are
denied or given
certain women, she knew, who saw
a Shoshone woman one day selling ponies

from a stall: watched, amazed,
her pocket all the earnings
without a husband’s permission.
I wouldn’t be a white girl

for all the horses
in the world, the woman scoffed
at her astonishment: my mother
who never sold an apple

without my father’s
say-so. Like my mother,
I married young, to an older man who believed—
like certain, stiff-backed politicians—

to join the union, Utah
must acculturate, scrub off
the oddities and freedoms
of its difference, renounce

some part of politics and faith:
our secrecy and marriage customs,
and then my woman’s right to vote. All gone
to make us join

the “modern” state—
And so perhaps I might be known
for what I’ve lost: a right, a home,
and now my mother, who died

the year we moved back East.
How fragile, indeed, are rights
and hopes, how unstable the powers
to which we grow attached.

My husband now can barely leave his bed.
As he’s grown ill, I’ve watched myself
become the wife
of many men, as all men in the end

become husband
to a congregation of women.
When he dies, I’ll move back West
to where my mother’s buried

and buy some land with the money
that she left—
To me alone she wrote,
who loved me,

and so for love of her
I’ll buy a house
and marble headstone
and fill my land with horses.

Last updated August 26, 2022