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.