The Gift Horses

Instead of owning my good fortune — you’re such a lucky fuck, they said —
I started talking extinctions, the medicine someone was going thru 
another’s turpitude, crocodile tears on primetime.

I changed the subject in case I was noticed by the instrumentality
that chocolate wheel in the sky that doles disease and accidents 
loosens lug nuts, hands scissors to toddlers, tyre irons to tyrants.
 
Once spotted, my future would be repainted beige — 
wishes all swum, a runner up cup, thanks for playing — or worse
disaster is a lion and we’re antelopes tripping on bath mats and traffic lights.
 
Here’s my Mum’s mantra – explaining our hearts
Don’t aim too high, she says. Disappointment’s a long road, she says.
Everything is rationed. There’s nothing in that drawer. 

Here I am, a child squatting at the top of the stairs on that chilly Christmas 
both of us, me and her, squatting, fists to my temples trying 
to not want that engine-red two-wheeler with the chromium…

Continue even unto the unwrapping, the instrumentality sees all. 
Comes a five-year old Orpheus downcast down the stairs lest, like Eurydice 
the bicycle of my dreams vanishes, swapped for smoke and recriminations.  

At last I’m shifting off that freeway
 — a land of blur and green —
I’m slowed on a side road, rolling to the heartland 

past cars on blocks, a house with an open door
like a tooth gone from a smile, police stations and charity stores
concrete playgrounds, schoolkids singing their ten-times table.

An old jacaranda and there’s Mum upright again, her care-worn cardigan. 
And we’re looking across the field to the horses, their long gentle faces 
their beautiful white dentures close cropping the weeds of fortune.


Image: Horse in Motion, Eadweard Muybridge, 1830-1904 c/- Boston Public Library. I had originally set out to write something to illustrate ‘turns’ in poetry but it ended up elsewhere – a place of memories and magical thinking (in the Joan Didion sense). Hope you like it. The phrase ‘nothing in that drawer’ is adapted from Ron Padget’s poem of the same name.

Tonight (25 Feb.) I’m hosting Dverse – the poets’ pub – where we’re talking about the middle parts of a poem – and ‘turns’ or ‘windows’ where a poem shifts or opens up a new direction. Drop by and join the fun. The bar opens from 3.00pm New York USA time.

And here’s a rare treat – Japanese jazz pianist Ryo Fukui with My Favourite Tune from 1994 – order another cider, put your sunglasses on and enjoy.

33 thoughts on “The Gift Horses

  1. Wow, it seems like a circle among life; you have both the good and the bad. I especially loved the first line:

    “Instead of owning my good fortune — you’re a lucky fuck, they said —”

    I feel like either someone would say this to me if I ever stumbled upon any good fortune or this is something I would think to myself if I had lol. Such a very vivid, descriptive, and expressive poem. There’s so much to delve in-between your words, they delineate an acceptance of a turning point perhaps along with solemnity. Very beautifully penned.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What an extraordinary piece of writing, Peter. You pull the reader along this path of contemplation – mishap, and contretemps, and alas every mother’s mantra “There’s nothing in that drawer.” I nearly laughed out loud at the point. And what a delightful angle you thrust into the mix – you squatting at the top of the stairs wishing away a red two wheeler. It’s a joy to read.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love the turn in this poem, Peter, and enjoyed the wander down your memory lane – with its twists and turns. I especially enjoyed the peek into your childhood in the lines:
    ‘Here I am, a child squatting at the top of the stairs on that chilly Christmas
    both of us, me and her, squatting, fists to my temples trying
    to not want that engine-red two-wheeler with the chromium’
    and the description of the horses:
    ‘their long gentle faces
    their beautiful white dentures cropping at the weeds of fortune.’

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  4. What I most enjoyed was the twist from that pessimism that anything that can go wrong will do… “Disappointment’s a long road, she says”.
    then you are there on the long winding road back home to your mother may be coming to terms a bit with your mother and those (happy) horses

    Liked by 2 people

  5. You had this reader hanging on every word, I noticed all the careful adjectives ‘careworn cardigan’, the unique descriptives “chocolate wheel in the sky that doles disease and accidents ” – “tyre irons to tyrants.” most memorable. And the turn from boy who dared not hope too much to the hoped for gift which after the race and topple climax tones down to Mother and child watching white-dentured horses grazing. This was brilliant!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I got a lump in my throat reading this. Oh the templates we are affixed with in childhood that get reinforced along the way. The fear of that chocolate wheel in the sky that punishes light, oh the contradiction that it lives in the light but is stingy with it. Your imagery sticks in the mind and in the heart. Not sure what hand was guiding you in writing this but it had your well-being in mind.

    P.S. Great music! It made me think of Murakami, who used to own a little jazz club in Japan before becoming a writer.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I like the turn from disappointment, and a mother who seems careworn, to joy in the moment of seeing the horses. It seems to me that sometimes our memories go this way, you remember it one way, but then as you tell it to someone, you suddenly see a different aspect to it. And, of course, writing a poem often works that way, too!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. This is absolutely phenomenal! It feels like dozens of decades are singing in this poem, each giving their share of pessimism all the while keeping the happier memories alive. Life is like that, isn’t it? We can’t help but be coloured in its hue. Especially love; “At last I’m shifting off that freeway — a land of blur and green —I’m slowed on a side road, rolling to the heartland.” 💝💝

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  9. Extremely encompassing work, Peter. Even though it’s your experience it’s ours as well. That’s what such fine work does. Salute. And thanks for the challenge!

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  10. There must be an ancient magic commonplace in poetry we’ve mostly forgot, that trope or turning point where snow falling begins to fly (to steal from Richard Wilbur). Who moved this child of thwarted expectations into an adult suggestion of acceptance? The gods, perhaps, or age, but we can thank the middle 8 for it. Without it, this would be jarring prose … Your prompt makes me think of the Labyrinth at Knossos — you headed round and down to the center and there would be prosaically devoured by the Minotaur or made that decisive turn at the center which leads up and out. That’s poetry. Great stuff, Peter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Helen – ‘nothing in that drawer’ is a wonderful line from Ron Padget’s poem – comprised of 14 repetitions of the same line. When I read it, it feels like at each line there might magically be something there – this time – but no. Reminds me of being a child when you could nag your parents over and over… ‘are we there yet?’

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  11. May you forever wander off the script, Peter. I think you’ll understand, as a fellow Australian, my belief that this piece could only have been written in Australia but takes us everywhere. This is a gem and an exemplar: ‘that chocolate wheel in the sky that doles disease and accidents
    loosens lug nuts, hands scissors to toddlers, tyre irons to tyrants’.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Great twist in the story… Did you get your bicycle? I like your mom’s mantra…
    Don’t aim too high, she says. Disappointment’s a long road, she says.
    Everything is rationed. There’s nothing in that drawer.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. This is a poem that takes you out of yourself, and to different places with each reading–into the memory of the poet, into the rhythm and mouth feel of the words, into both the dream and the concrete images. A tour de force.

    Like

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