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Horse Latitudes

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About The Author

Paul MuldoonPaul Muldoon

Paul Muldoon is the author of nine books of poetry, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning Moy Sand and Gravel (FSG, 2002). He teaches at Princeton University and, between1999 and 2004, was professor of poetry at Oxford University.

photo: Peter Cook

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?"


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.


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.


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.

Excerpted from Horse Latitudes by Paul Muldoon.
Copyright 2006 by Paul Muldoon.
Published in 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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