"The Carriage Horses"


I was cycling west when I saw them,
a chestnut brown and dapple grey,
slab-shouldered, resting one hind hoof each
somewhere on a street between 9th and 10th,
where the warehouses begin to lower and spread
before this city gives altogether,
to the river's catwalks of stumps and slow-drifting freight.

They weren't harnessed yet, their carriages
on the sidewalk, unbalanced without them,
and their drivers hosing them, the thumbed
fans of water splitting at their withers
to soak their coats to seal skins before mixing,
as it ran, into a guttered froth of soap and piss.

They weren't blinkered either - but so used to this.
Docile against the highway's roar,
settled under their muscle like a pair
of punch drunk heavyweights, their heads dropped
and nodding, as if they still drew shadows
of those carriages tipped beside them.

I cycled on, but wish now I'd stopped.
If for nothing else then for their smell
and the memory it would have conjured -
of lying in a field against a sleeping horse's flank,
articulated within the speech marks of its legs
into a world made briefly as ancient as the chestnuts on its hocks;
devoid of time or cities, or any other engine of our hunger.





This article first appeared in the 05 December 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The death spiral