Last night five horses
waded up out of the lake –
and now I need to tell you
the gleam of their eyes,
the bright husks of their hooves,
their shuddering coats –
that one, russet shading tan below
the black, soft, coarse, upstanding brush of her mane,
and her sisters – dapple, roan, chestnut, grey,
breathing beside her.
They stepped close into the weeds,
cropping there in their halo of insects,
wind-stirred grass become ripple of flesh,
and I called out for their beauty
though they say we should fear them.
Back in the grip of the ice
we painted horses like this
shouldering out of the rockface
into the lights of our little fires,
the packed weight of the unnamed world
massed as shadow behind them.
It wasn’t the hunt we were painting
our middens full of the bones of deer, rabbit, fowl),
it was our longing – we crawled down
into the dark of our hope
and we waited there
to meet the warm gods
who came surging through
to call our first words from us,
to lend their shapes to the patterns
our nervy souls were laying down.
When did we start to think we could own them,
keep them in daylight, have them
without that humble watch through absolute night?
We lost them then – clever,
they turned our grasp against us,
bound our skin to clinging hide
and dragged us down to a different dark –
airless reach of a waterworld.
There in the ooze they unmade us,
took back the power of names
they’d given to bring the worlds together.
By the lake – not far from here –
we were trying to sing,
parts unlearned or snarled,
when the horses came.
And still, again last night
a praise-song came with them,
stepping high out of the cave of my mouth –
for the holy guests returning and
the black water, behovely, answering
in the play of voices,
in the darkening chambers.