Tell us of a bypassed heart beating in 12C,
how the woman holds a stranger’s hand
to the battery sewn in beneath her collarbone,
and says feel this. Tell us of the man’s ear
listening across the aisle, hugging itself,
a fist long since blistered by blaze.
Outside, morning sun buckling up.
Inside, twitching bonesacks of bat, birdsong
erupting as light cracks the far jungle canopy.
Ten thousand feet below ours, a grey cat
tongues the morning’s butter left out to soft.
Last night we broke open the sweet folds
around two paper fortunes. One said variety.
One said caution. The woman in 12C would hold that
her heart needs its hidden spark, but the man shows
how some live the rest of their lives with half a face
remembering its before expression. Who was it
that said our souls know one another
by smell, like horses?
& I know what it means when you write of horses,
know that what we wish for, we are most afraid of—
but still, resting amongst those spaded hooves—the urge
to sing of busy fantasies, of your inherited desire for death,
to admire the burrowed lancelet, its body boneless
& free to wrap only around itself. Instead, you remember
the grand space of unknowing, the man loping whiskey-
breathed from the stable, & the child left to rot in the sun.
It means you can still feel the heavy thrum of thigh
on saddle, can smell the man’s blood-hunger, the heel
of his palm forcing you toward the mane—but instead,
you say the guestbook of my body is signed by strangers,
speak of carrying a comet in the throat, of sleeping longer
in summer than winter. And as I draw you to my chest,
you say the horse’s heart weighs nine pounds, that no two
are identical, & I listen intently, hear the desperate myth
in your naming of the roan—he, whom you know
only as sweet messenger of rebirth.
At the wake, the china breaks, & a horse
a red horse
walks through the bay window
making any sound: an actual horse
of white on its flanks an actual
breathing packed red earth. An actual
that no one notices, even as it grazes
the cold, lemon
ice. I cannot eat a horse, E.
I cannot even
escape on one, as it is not real; how will I go
Kansas City, Missouri
Taken with iPhone
—James Wright, Poetry, March 1961
From The Open Door: 100 Poems, 100 Years of Poetry Magazine. In the introduction, editor Christian Wiman writes:
When we talk about lyric poetry we tend to think of emotional inwardness, even when the details of a given poem may be completely external. James Wright’s “The Blessing” is a classic example: the details of the natural world are rendered with a kind of inner spiritual precision that enables the poet almost, but not quite, to transcend them.
after James Wright
Startled by my breath it bolts
to the other end of the field.
The horizon’s brow rasps
against a green cloud
which seems both
desperate and sincere.
Into a dead tree
a flame of bird
drives its burning beak.
And somewhere out here
I have come to terms
with my brother’s suicide.
I wish the god of this place
would put me in its mouth
until I dissolve, until
the field doesn’t end
and I am broken open
like a shotgun,
Our heart wanders lost in the dark woods.
Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt.
But there’s music in us. Hope is pushed down
but the angel flies up again taking us with her.
The summer mornings begin inch by inch
while we sleep, and walk with us later
as long-legged beauty through
the dirty streets. It is no surprise
that danger and suffering surround us.
What astonishes is the singing.
We know the horses are there in the dark
meadow because we can smell them,
can hear them breathing.
Our spirit persists like a man struggling
through the frozen valley
who suddenly smells flowers
and realizes the snow is melting
out of sight on top of the mountain,
knows that spring has begun.
chip of the closed, —L O S T world, toward whose unseen grasses
this long-necked emissary horse
stretches, to graze
stretching Horse;—ripe with hunger, bright circle
of appetite, risen to feed and famish us, from exile underground … for
you chip of the incommensurate
closed world Angel
—from Desire, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997
The skeleton of a horse picked clean by birds given alms. Sky burial. He is not one bot but all bots, throat singing.
We offer him a place in our throats to overtone and vibrate. Sing through us.
Night on night a horse stood in the hull
crossing an ocean.
It tried to dream on the smell of damp oatseed
its former country, the spongy field
and the clop of a hoof. Later
came winds and a blanket
thrown and a bearded rider swung up
clicking his tongue there in the dark ark’s hold.
O they could see dirt roads by the hundreds
vaulted with tamarisks,
the early springs, the breath-apples of winters.
But where were they going—
two sips wobbling in a huge goblet, pitched
and yawed, the constant paradiddle of rain,
doves shitting the rafters. The rider said a voice
had promised on the other side of water
was a green prairie, horizon snug as a rib.
And the horse thought, Never be the horse God talks to.
The waves reached a gallop just
beneath them, reached the horizon and thinned
to sweat, and still
the horse slept upright in the ripe blackness.
Or so they assumed
the deck passengers, terns, archangels, cherubim, etc.
Months later, a rock rose and low furzy branches.
Then in each ankle a bell clapped for the mud.
Never look a gift horse in the mouth? But what if on the horse’s tongue there’s a tiny little man playing piano? Why would you not look at that? That’s incredible. —Dan Cummins
It’s why the gift horse is a gift,
and there is always a tiny man inside,
though sometimes more than one.
You should look; peer as far back as you can,
because if he’s not playing piano,
he and his friends might be sharpening
blades inside that dark, inside
the horse’s belly, inside your sleeping city.
Twenty men crawl out of the gift: you’ll want to see this;
you’ll want to see how they spill into the city,
and open the gates, and paint everything
the color of burned flesh.
The war is ending. Achilles is dead.
Paris lives on in shame.
And one man
plays piano as the city burns.
I’ve been there. And because I didn’t look,
I never saw it coming.
The phone calls in the middle of the night.
Hospital beds. Friends staggering in,
and the world on fire. The horse’s mouth.
Pry the jaws back
and stare through the phlegm that falls
between the teeth and the hallway of the throat.
Whoever told you not to look at this is hiding something,
because the world is beautiful,
haunted, and begging you to receive its offering.
May you never find such music again.
The idea is to get a horse, a Central Park workhorse.
A horse who lives in a city, over in the hell part of Hell’s
Kitchen, in a big metal tent.
You have to get one who is dying.
Maybe you get his last day on the job, his owner, his
You get his walk back home at the end of the day,
some flies, some drool. You get his deathbed, maybe.
And then, post mortem, still warm, you get the vet or else
to take his three best legs. And then you get the taxidermist
to stuff them
heavy, with some alloy, steel, something.
Next day you go over to Christie’s interiors sale and buy a
shabby condition but tony provenance, let’s say it graced the
of some or other Vanderbilt’s Gold Coast classic six.
And you ask the welder you know to carefully replace the
with the horse legs, and you put the horse/piano somewhere
like a lobby,
and you hire a guy to play it on the hour, so that everybody
how much work it is to hold anything up in this world.
(St. Laurent Sur Mer, June 5, 2009)
Sometimes the day
behind you and it is
a great treasure in this case today a man on
a horse in calm full
gallop on Omaha over my
left shoulder coming on
calm not audible to me at all until I turned back my
head for no
reason as if what lies behind
one had whispered
what can I do for you today and I had just
answer and the answer to my
answer flooded from the front with the late sun he/they
were driving into—gleaming—
wet chest and upraised knees and
light-struck hooves and thrust-out even breathing of the great
beast—from just behind me,
passing me—the rider looking straight
ahead and yet
smiling without looking at me as I smiled as we
both smiled for the young
animal, my feet in the
breaking wave-edge, his hooves returning, as they begin to pass
to the edge of the furling
break, each tossed-up flake of
ocean offered into the reddish
luminosity—sparks—as they made their way,
boring through to clear out
life, a place where no one
again is suddenly
killed—regardless of the “cause”—no one—just this
galloping forward with
force through the low waves, seagulls
scattering all round, their
screeching and mewing rising like more bits of red foam, the
horse’s hooves now suddenly
louder as it goes
by and its prints on
wet sand deep and immediately filled by thousands of
sandfleas thrilled to the
declivities in succession in the newly
at the right
moment for some
microscopic life to rise up through these
cups in the hard upslant
retreating ocean is
revealing, sandfleas finding them just as light does,
carving them out with
shadow, and glow on each
water oozing up through the innermost cut of the
and when I shut my eyes now I am not like a blind person
walking towards the lowering sun,
the water loud at my right,
but like a seeing person
with her eyes shut
putting her feet down
one at a time
on the earth.