Book of Horses

there was the first horse
and then the last;

the scheme of horses in between
is immaterial (to say they were muscle

is being kind, they were meat)
but the first horse was the horsehead—

high angular white bones 
and sinew—and the great matter of him broke meaning open

like a disclosure, and there, where he lived, lay the river of the canyon,
all white-tipped like a righteous migration of spines,

and he stilled the water by his will alone 
to better see the startling symmetry of his reflection,

his charge moving him 
somehow faster than the breath's steady luggage,

across the neckline of the field,
and up and over sugar cane, always

toward starvation: for as terrifying as it is,
forever is a solid,

and from that firstfoal followed his blood
like the flood that begins at the mount 

and streams and cheats and even seems to grow 
by rain that falls by the torso 

but loses itself through the corn husks 
and understory until it is thinner

than the water that comes from a wound
and it settles in the ditch of a cul-de-sac, at rest as a lie.

Related Poems

from "A Brief History of Fathers Searching for Their Sons" [1. Parable]

There’s a man who sits on the shore every morning,
staring at the sea. And the sea stares back, defiantly.
It won’t release its secrets. I’ll give you an answer
if I take what you’re offering me, says the sea.

When the man begins to weep, the sea yawns
with indifference. Tears are abundant here. As are
sinking ships and broken hearts and moons that drop
like shards of shattered windows. Prayers crumble,

brittle against the Caribbean wind. There’s nothing
in your skies or on your land I haven’t swallowed.
Or spat right back. The man, defeated, rises, drags
his shadow—a shadow? Or a piece of cloth, a flag?

The sea keeps reaching for a closer look. The figure
blurs into the landscape and takes his story with him.
Waves crash against the rocks as if that sudden exit
hadn’t left the ocean waters floundering in wonder.

What was that? The question turns to driftwood
and knocks against the mass of land, thereafter
unanswered because the man never came back.
And so the sea sifts through its rubble once again

and again and again and again and again in order to
complete this puzzle—narratives left unfinished toss
inside memory forever. That’s why the sea comes
to the shore each morning looking for a man.

Narcissus

Near the path through the woods I’ve seen it:
a trail of white candles.

I could find it again, I could follow
its light deep into shadows.

Didn’t I stand there once?
Didn’t I choose to go back

down the cleared path, the familiar?
Narcissus, you said. Wasn’t this

the flower whose sudden enchantments
led Persephone down into Hades?

You remember the way she was changed
when she came every spring, having seen

the withering branches, the chasms,
and how she had to return there

helplessly, having eaten
the seed of desire. What was it

I saw you were offering me
without meaning to, there in the sunlight,

while the flowers beckoned and shone
in their flickering season?

Is It True All Legends Once Were Rumors

And it was as we’d been told it would be: some stumbling wingless;
others flew beheaded. But at first when we looked at them, we could
see no difference, the way it can take a while to realize about how
regretfulness is not regret. As for being frightened: though for many
animals the governing instinct, when most afraid, is to attack, what about
the tendency of songbirds, in a storm, toward silence—is that fear, too?
For mostly, yes, we were silent—tired, as well, though as much out of
boredom as for the need to stretch a bit, why not the rest on foot, we
at last decided—and dismounting, each walked with his horse close
beside him. We mapped our way north by the stars, old school, until there
were no stars, just the weather of childhood, where it’s snowing forever.