Horse Latitudes

Beijing

I could still hear the musicians
cajoling those thousands of clay
horses and horsemen through the squeeze
when I woke beside Carlotta.
Life-size, also. Also terra-cotta.
The sky was still a terra-cotta frieze
over which her grandfather still held sway
with the set square, fretsaw, stencil,
plumb line, and carpenter's pencil
his grandfather brought from Roma.
Proud-fleshed Carlotta. Hypersarcoma.
For now our highest ambition
was simply to bear the light of the day
we had once been planning to seize.

Baginbun

The Nashville skyline's hem and haw
as the freebooters who freeboot
through their contractual mire and murk,
like Normans stampeding dozens
of cows into their Norse-Irish cousins,
were balking now at this massive breastwork
they themselves had thrown up. The pile of toot
on a mirror. The hip-hirple
of a white horse against purple.
Age-old traductions I could trace
from freebasers pretending they freebase
to this inescapable flaw
hidden by Carlotta's close-knit wet suit
like a heart-wound by a hauberk.

Bannockburn

Though he was mounted on a cob
rather than a warhorse, the Bruce
still managed to sidestep a spear
from Henry de Bohun and tax
de Bohun's poll with his broad-based poleax
and leave de Bohun's charger somewhat leer.
Her grandfather had yet to find a use
for the two-timing partisan
his grandfather brought man-to-man
against all those Ferdinandies
until he saw it might come in handy
for whacking the thingammybobs
off pine and fir, off pine and fir and spruce
and all such trees as volunteer.

Berwick-Upon-Tweed

Off the elm, the ancient pollard
that a Flemish painter might love,
that comes to shun the attention
of its headstrong days, so is proof
against the storm that takes its neighbor's roof.
Her nonno collects his pension
knowing that when push really came to shove
he had it within him to wrap
his legs in puttees and backslap
those pack mules down that moonlit deck,
Carlotta now wearing a halter-neck
under the long-sleeved, high-collared
wet suit whereof . . . whereof . . . whereof . . . whereof
I needs must again make mention.

Blaye

Her wet suit like a coat of mail
worn by a French knight from the time
a knight could still cause a ruction
by direct-charging his rouncy,
when an Englishman's home was his bouncy
castle, when abduction and seduction
went hand in glove. Now Carlotta would climb
from the hotel pool in Nashville,
take off her mask, and set a spill
to a Gauloise as one might set
a spill to the fuse of a falconet
and the walls of her chest assail.
The French, meanwhile, were still struggling to prime
their weapons of mass destruction.

Bosworth Field

It was clear now, through the pell-mell
of bombard- and basilisk-mist,
that the Stanleys had done the dirt
on him and taken Henry's side.
Now Richard's very blood seemed to have shied
away from him, seemed to sputter and spurt
like a falcon sheering off from his wrist
as he tried to distance himself
from the same falchioneer who'd pelf
the crown from his blood-matted brow
and hang it in a tree. Less clear was how
he'd managed not to crack the shell
of the pigeon egg the size of a cyst
he'd held so close inside his shirt

Blackwater Fort

As I had held Carlotta close
that night we watched some Xenophon
embedded with the 5th Marines
in the old Sunni Triangle
make a half-assed attempt to untangle
the ghastly from the price of gasoline.
There was a distant fanfaron
in the Nashville sky, where the wind
had now drawn itself up and pinned
on her breast a Texaco star.
"Why," Carlotta wondered, "the House of Tar?
Might it have to do with the gross
imports of crude oil Bush will come clean on
only when the Tigris comes clean?"

Benburb

Those impromptu chevaux-de-frise
into which they galloped full tilt
and impaled themselves have all but
thrown off their balance the banner-
bearing Scots determined to put manners
on the beech mast- and cress- and hazelnut-
eating Irish. However jerry-built,
those chevaux-de-frise have embogged
the horses whose manes they had hogged
so lovingly and decked with knots
of heather, horses rooted to the spots
on which they go down on their knees
as they unwind their shoulder plaids and kilts,
the checkered careers of their guts.

Boyne

The blood slick from the horse slaughter
I could no longer disregard
as Carlotta surfaced like barm.
My putting her through her paces
as she kicked and kicked against the traces
like a pack mule kicking from a yardarm
before it fell, heehaw, in the dockyard.
A banner's frittering tassel
or deflating bouncy castle
was something to which she paid heed
whereas that vision of a milk-white steed
drinking from a tub of water
and breathing hard, breathing a little hard,
had barely set off an alarm.

Blenheim

Small birds were sounding the alert
as I followed her unladen
steed through a dell so dark and dank
she might have sported the waders
her grandfather had worn at the nadir
of his career, scouring the Outer Banks
for mummichog and menhaden.
Those weeks and months in the doldrums
coming back as he ran his thumb
along an old venetian blind
in the hope that something might come to mind,
that he might yet animadvert
the maiden name of that Iron Maiden
on which he was drawing a blank.

Bunker Hill

Carlotta took me in her arms
as a campfire gathers a branch
to itself, her mouth a cauter
set to my bleeding bough, heehaw.
Her grandfather sterilizing his saw
in a tub of 100-proof firewater,
a helper standing by to stanch
the bleeding in some afterlife.
No looking daggers at the knife.
She'd meet the breast-high parapet
with the nonchalance, the no fucking sweat
of a slightly skanky schoolmarm
though the surgeon was preparing to ganch
her like What's-his-face's Daughter.

Brandywine

I crouched in my own Little Ease
by the pool at the Vanderbilt
where Carlotta crouched, sputter-sput,
just as she had in the scanner
when the nurse, keen-sighted as a lanner,
picked out a tumor like a rabbit scut
on dark ground. It was as if a fine silt,
white sand or silicate, had clogged
her snorkel, her goggles had fogged,
and Carlotta surfaced like flot
to be skimmed off some great cast-iron pot
as garble is skimmed off, or lees
painstakingly drained by turnings and tilts
from a man-size barrel or butt.

Badli-Ke-Serai

Pork barrels. Pork butts. The wide-screen
surround sound of a massed attack
upon the thin red cellulose
by those dust- or fust- or must-cells
that cause the tears to well and well and well.
At which I see him turning up his nose
as if he'd bitten on a powder-pack
like yet another sad Sepoy
who won't fall for the British ploy
of greasing with ham the hammer
or smoothing over Carlotta's grammar:
"On which . . . On which Bush will come clean."
Her grandfather a man who sees no lack
of manhood in the lachrymose.

Bull Run

While some think there's nothing more rank
than the pool that's long stood aloof
from the freshet, I loved the smell
of sweat and blood and, , horse dung
Carlotta shouldered like an Aqua-Lung
as she led me now through that dewy dell
and spread her House of Tartan waterproof.
As we lay there I could have sworn,
as I stared through unruffled thorns
that were an almost perfect fit
to each side of the gravel pit
where she and I'd tried to outflank
each other, I traced the mark of a hoof
(or horseshoe) in her fontanelle.

Bronkhorstspruit

I traced the age-old traduction
of a stream through a thorn thicket
as a gush from a farthingale.
Skeffington's Daughter. Skeffington.
Attention. Shun. Attention. Shun. Shun. Shun.
We lay in a siding between two rails
and watched an old white horse cross the picket
of himself and trek through the scrub
to drink from an iron-hooped tub
with the snore-snort of a tuba.
His winkers and bellyband said scuba,
while his sudden loss of suction
Carlotta knew meant a pump whose clicket's
failed in the way a clicket fails.

Basra

"The way to relieve the tension
on the line to a windjammer
is to lubricate the bollard
so it's always a little slack . . ."
Her nonno giving us the inside track
on how the mule drivers whooped and hollered
on the dock. No respite from his yammer
on boundlessness being a bind
and the most insidious kind
of censorship self-censorship
while he took Carlotta for a quick whip
through conjugation, declension,
and those other "crannies of the crammer"
in which she'd been "quite unscholared."

Bazentin

As I was bringing up her rear
a young dragoon would cock a snook
at the gunners raking the knob
of High Wood. Tongue like a scaldy
in a nest. Hadn't a Garibaldi
what might lie behind that low-level throb
like a niggle in her appointment book.
Dust? Fust? Must? The dragoon nonplussed
by his charger taking the rust
and, despite her recalcitrance,
Carlotta making a modest advance
when the thought of a falchioneer
falling to with his two-faced reaping hook
now brought back her grandfather's job.

Beersheba

Now summoned also the young Turk
who had suddenly arisen
from that great pile of toot, heehaw,
as from one of Beersheba's wells.
Like the sail that all of a sudden swells
on the yawl that all of a sudden yaws,
a wind finding meaning in a mizzen
and toppling a bouncy castle.
Her grandfather fain to wrastle
each pack mule to a rubber mat
whereat . . . whereat . . . whereat . . . whereat . . . whereat . . .
he would eftsoons get down to work,
reaching into its wide-open wizen
while a helper clamped back its jaws.

Burma

Her grandfather's job was to cut
the vocal cords of each pack mule
with a single, swift excision,
a helper standing by to wrench
the mule's head fiercely to one side and drench
it with hooch he'd kept since Prohibition.
"Why," Carlotta wondered, "that fearsome tool?
Was it for fear the mules might bray
and give their position away?"
At which I see him thumb the shade
as if he were once more testing a blade
and hear the two-fold snapping shut
of his four-fold, brass-edged carpenter's rule:
"And give away their position."

 

Paul Muldoon, "Horse Latitudes" from Horse Latitudes. Copyright © 2006 by Paul Muldoon.  Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Source: Horse Latitudes (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2006)
More Poems by Paul Muldoon