The Tuesday Poem: Horse Trading

I've decided not to put poems in the sidebar, which distorts the line breaks, but to put them up in the main body of the blog from now on. I've also been accepted as one of the Tuesday Poem group and am committed to putting up a poem (not necessarily my own) every Tuesday if I can.

They wake me early, cantering
along the river-bank below my window;
testy stallions and barrel-bellied mares
with velvet mouths and feathered shins,
bare-backed by Irish gypsies
over for the Fair.

Later I watch the pure-bred
horses harnessed in sulkies
jouncing across the grass,
arching their necks and lifting
their polished hooves like gods
from old mythologies.

In my house their ancestors gallop
under the floor. Five horses heads;
ivory shells of thin bone, blank sockets
rearing up at me out of another time.
Shaman's stallions, carrying souls to heaven.
Five white horses: one to protect

each corner of the house, one more
to bring fertility, sacrificed at the fall
of the year. Their shoes are above the door.
Their manes and tails pack the space
between my floor boards
curl in the plastered wall.

Outside I watch them turn and trot,
hock deep in foaming water,
"broken to harness" under the whip
flesh and sinew sold on a hand-clap.
At night I hear their mythic hooves
beating on wood; their snorting breath.

I wrote the poem lying in bed listening to the horses on the river bank below my bedroom window, during the Gypsy Horse Fair in Appleby. The town has a long association with horses and, although we don't have any horses carved into the landscape as in southern England, some of the houses here have horses' skulls buried under the floors. The mystical significance of this has long vanished, but the traditional Horse Fair continues.


  1. Welcome to Tuesday Poem Kathleen. A marvellous sense of history and myth in this poem and of the sheer physicality of HORSES - all that lovely language 'jouncing' 'feathered shins' 'hock deep in foaming water'. Lovely.

  2. I like the segue from the present to the mythology/ancestors/shaman part, then back to the present with that picture-perfect scene in the first half of the last stanza. I like it more that you ended the poem with sounds (can be real, can be illusory -- therein lies, sort of, my affinity for the aural in poetry). Cheers.

  3. Thanks for your comments, Mary and S.L. The poem is still a work-in-progress, but I hope to have it finished one of these days! All feedback is welcome.


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