Tuesday Poem: “Horse Story” by Bryan Walpert

Horse Story

The thinnest horse of my life stood in a paddock
by Lake Tekapo. It was white and its ribs
a drying rack for skin, its body an in-drawn breath.
You walked ahead to take a photograph of two kayakers on the lake,
our car parked precariously by the side of the highway.
Naturally I thought about desire and its various manifestations.
For example, there was a story someone told me once about a horse.
A joke, really. Something about a farmer trying to save on feed.
It will come to me. The horse in that paddock by the lake was,
miraculously, eating. Grass, I guess; I don’t know much about horses.
Its head bobbed, down below the fence line, then back into the air.
While you pulled out your camera—I’m assuming, as I couldn’t discern
detail from that distance—I stood before that paddock and wondered
what color life might be if emptied of all memory. No yearning
would be its corollary, which would wipe this horse from existence,
were it merely symbol. Or perhaps only yearning. I don’t know.
In the joke, the farmer feeds his horse a little bit less each day,
one of those barely discernable differences that is cumulative,
until you decide you notice, that it is not your imagination,
like the silvering of your own hair or a distance emerging between,
say, the two kayaks on the lake as I turned from the horse
to see what was keeping you. You had started back towards me,
growing larger and larger, like a much-anticipated square on the calendar
that felt once like it would never arrive. When you did, I tried to talk
to you about the horse, but it no longer stood in the paddock.
Are you sure, you asked, that it was really there? Look,
no one breaks into blossom. Here’s how it ends:
The farmer had the horse eating nearly nothing, but it died.

“Horse Story” is from Walpert’s collection of poems, Etymology (Cinnamon Press). What strikes me about Walpert’s poem is the way it conveys the different worlds we inhabit. The woman in the poem is interested in the “two kayakers on the lake,” whereas the poet stops at the horse. The poem not only talks to the world of the present, but that of memory and desire, which is different for all of us. I also enjoy the inconclusiveness of the poem. “I don’t know,” says the poet, because of course, we can’t.

Bryan Walpert is also the author of A History of Glass (Stephen F. Austin State UP, forthcoming October), and Ephraim’s Eyes (Pewter Rose Press), named a Best Book of 2010; and a scholarly monograph, Resistance to Science in Contemporary American Poetry (Routledge, forthcoming October). His work has been published widely in journals or anthologies in NZ, the UK, and his native U.S., and has received a number of awards, most recently the James Wright Poetry Award from the Mid-American Review. He teaches creative writing at Massey University’s School of English & Media Studies in Palmerston North. Bryan is also my doctoral supervisor, so I am extremely lucky.

For more information, visit http://bryanwalpert.com.

For other Tuesday Poems, check out the hub.


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