My Invisible Horse and the Speed of Human Decency
People always tell me, “Don’t put the cart
before the horse,” which is curious
because I don’t have a horse.
Is this some new advancement in public shaming—
repeatedly drawing one’s attention
to that which one is currently not, and never
has been, in possession of?
If ever, I happen to obtain a Clydesdale,
then I’ll align, absolutely, it to its proper position
in relation to the cart, but I can’t
do that because all I have is the cart.
One solitary cart—a little grief wagon that goes
precisely nowhere—along with, apparently, one
invisible horse, which does not pull,
does not haul, does not in any fashion
budge, impel or tow my disaster buggy
up the hill or down the road.
I’m not asking for much. A more tender world
with less hatred strutting the streets.
Perhaps a downtick in state-sanctioned violence
against civilians. Wind through the trees.
Water under the bridge. Kindness.
LOL, says the world. These things take time, says
the Office of Disappointment. Change cannot
be rushed, says the roundtable of my smartest friends.
Then, together, they say, The cart!
They say, The horse!
They say, Haven’t we told you already?
So my invisible horse remains
standing where it previously stood:
between hotdog stands and hallelujahs,
between the Nasdaq and the moon’s adumbral visage,
between the status quo and The Great Filter,
and I can see that it’s not his fault—being
invisible and not existing—
how he’s the product of both my imagination
and society’s failure of imagination.
Watch how I press my hand against his translucent flank.
How I hold two sugar cubes to his hypothetical mouth.
How I say I want to believe in him,
speaking softly into his missing ear.
Copyright © 2019 by Matthew Olzmann. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 22, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
About this Poem
“This poem began as a way to think about rhetoric and the strangeness of platitudes. I wanted to begin in cliché, not because it’s an empty or vacuous bit of language, but because clichés have the paradoxical ability to communicate complex ideas quickly while simultaneously undermining that same act of communication. That paradox is where this poem beings.”
Matthew Olzmann is the author of Contradictions in the Design (Alice James Books, 2016). He lives in North Carolina.
Date Published: 2019-10-22
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/my-invisible-horse-and-speed-human-decency