writer feature: Kathleen Aguero

Kathleen Aguero

The Rider/The Horse

Fear saddled me, trained me,
stabled me, named me,
braided my hair.
Carrot and stick,
taught me to dance,
taught me to rear,
shod me and hobbled me,
bred me and pastured me,
cantered me, galloped me,
spurred me and drove me
out of the meadow
into the thicket,
out of the thicket
into the woods.
Fear held the bridle,
tightened the bit.
Fear was the master
brutal and quick,

but was I the horse?
Was I the rider?


The above poem from Kathleen Aguero’s World Happiness Index (Tiger Bark Press) moves me in the way it interrogates Fear the concept through visceral means. This viscerality is evoked through the use of short phrasing and enjambment. Phrases are broken up, each line pulling the reader in one direction, only to shift to another direction in the next. The speaker describes the ride Fear takes them on, and we are there with them.

One of the more impactful moments is the jolt brought on by the rhyme toward the end of the last stanza. The way “bit” and “quick” play off each other sonically create an echo and imply an attempt at order after so many lines of chaos. This implied order is then upended by the final lines and their closing questions. These questions leave us wondering alongside the speaker, only we wonder and wander back to our lives to reflect, directly and indirectly, on the role of Fear in our lives.

Which is one way to work in that I’ve been living with fear myself these days. Not a new state, but one that keeps changing as folks become comfortable trying to convince themselves and others that we are moving on from the pandemic. This isn’t, of course, the case.

And yet, myself and others who are at risk, who are caregivers, who are disabled and on immunosuppressant medications, who are parents worried about their kids-jobs-sanity, who are at the mercy of a paycheck and are forced to place themselves at risk, we are having to navigate two realities: the one we know and the one being forced.

Hell, I just learned the phrase “endemic delusion,” which is a thing here and abroad.

Which brings me back to Aguero’s poem. How it underscores the ways in which fear can teach us things. And that it’s not fear that teaches but our surviving it, doing our own interrogation and work.

The jolts keep coming. If you’re reading this, I hope poems like this one and others steady you on your path.


Copies of Kathleen Aguero’s World Happiness Index can be purchased from Tiger Bark Press.

2 responses to “writer feature: Kathleen Aguero”

  1. José –Thank you so much for you thoughtful discussion of my poem.

  2. José,

    Thank you so much for featuring my poem and discussing it in such detail.

    xo Kathi


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