I live and work in the Old Dominion – Virginia, not far from the nation’s capital, but just far enough. One of our distinguished poets, is Henry Taylor who won a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1986 for his book The Flying Change which includes the poem, The Horseshow at Midnight. If you are acquainted with the equestrian sport of dressage, it will mean more, but even if you are not – it is a fine sample by one of Virginia’s poet laureates.
THE HORSE SHOW AT MIDNIGHT
by Henry Taylor
I The Rider
Now, the showground is quiet,
The spectators all have departed.
Along the walls of the arena
The jumps are lying, collapsed
The moon shines down on the grandstand
As I walk out across the ring
Alone, watching for what may not be here.
I take my place as a judge
In the center of the ring, waiting.
Asleep in their stables, the horses
Awaken to my thought-out call
And rise from the straw and walk
To the ring, silently and formally.
One after another they march
Around the ring, proudly, like men.
I stand on my toes and speak softly –
They all start to gallop at once
Their hoofs beating only within me.
Around the ring, faster and faster,
Their manes like flame in the moonlight,
They gallop in single file,
Halt as I think the command,
Then walk out of the ring
Into darkness, proudly and softly.
One horse only stays with me
Straining to hear a command
That I am unable to utter.
On a sign from someone unseen
The jumps rise up into place
By themselves, hugely and suddenly
The horse kneels down on the grass
And rises up with a rider
As I watch from my place as a judge
My heart and my bones leave my body
And are heart and bones of this rider.
As the horse flies over the fences
The horseman whose heart is the judge's
Makes no movement or sound,
But the horse knows what he must do
And he takes the fences one by one
Not touching the poles or the ground.
At the end of the course he halts
And the fences retreat to the ringside,
Then my horse and his rider are gone.
Alone in the grandstand's shadow
I call to him time after time
But only my bones fill my body.
The rider and horse do not answer.
I walk across to the gate
Looking back once more at the ring
Watching for sound or a movement
Left behind by one horse that I love.
The empty ring does not echo
And the horse has left no hoofprints.
In the moonlight, alone, I sink down
Kneeling in nothing but bones
And I call to my horse once again
But the ring and the grandstand are quiet.
II The Horse
In the darkened stable I move in my sleep
And my hoof stirs the straw and wakes me.
I rise, breathing softly, inhaling
The moonlight outside like perfume,
Straining to hear the command
That moved my hoof in the straw
In my huge, shining shape I stand
Listening, and I hear the calling again
Through the locked door of my stall,
Obeying, I march to the show ring
Beside horses I cannot see, but feel
As their hoofs shake the air around me
I march to the sound of a heart
That beats somewhere just ahead of me.
In the ring I lead a parade
In a circle, galloping and galloping,
And I wait for a change in the heartbeat.
I halt, and the others march out,
And I sink to my knees on the grass
As a body gets up on my back
And the man in the ring disappears.
I rise to my feet once again
And look around me at fences
Which have spring like trees from the ground.
My shape fills the air as I fly
Over boards, stone walls, and poles,
And the bones on my back do not move.
Still I move to the beat of a heart
That brought me out of the stable.
I stop when I clear the last fence,
And the bones dismount, and I march
From the ring to the sound of the heart.
Back in my stable I lie down
Wide-eyed, breathless and shining,
Still hearing within me the call
That brought me over the jumps.
This time I cannot obey:
The man is only partly a rider
And the rider in him is within me.
Helpless, grief-stricken, and alone,
He kneels out there in the moonlight
With only his bones for a body,
His heart singing deeply within
A shape that moves with new life.
I believe in the singing and sleep.