Thursday, July 05, 2007


Horseflies - Robert Wrigley

This is a special poem, to be savored for its amazing language, its music and the 'shorthand' of image/experience that only poetry can provide. Read it more than once to take in the magical moment of a child, the brilliant literacy of the poet.

Horseflies could not have the same effect if it was a story or a flash. It had to be poetry because of the amazement created by language and image of the sort that tells less but conveys more. A simple story of a farm boy volunteering to do the chore of burning the rotting corpse of a dead horse—written without sentimentality or guile. It surprises. And the ending, that extraordinary child’s fantasy of transforming, if for only a moment, into the Crusader wielding his sword, dressed in his armor—-created out of the sheer beauty of his own vision, but steeped in the reality of death and stink and horseflies. This poem makes my heart soar with the flies, makes my mind explode with the boy lifting.

2005 Pushcart Prize XXIX Best of the Small Presses

After the horse went down
.....the heat came up
and later that week
.....the smell of its fester yawed,
an open mouth of had-been air
.....our local world was licked
inside of, and I,

the boy who'd volunteered at twilight--
.....shunts of chawed cardboard
wadded up my nostrils
.....and a dampened bandana
over my nose and mouth--
.....I strode then

into the ever-purpler sink
.....of rankness and smut,
a sloshful five-gallon bucket of kerosene my right hand,
a smoking railroad fusee my left,
and it came over me like water then,

into my head-gaps and gum
.....rinds, into the tear ducts
and taste buds and even
.....into the last dark tendrils
of my howling, agonized hair
.....that through the windless half-light
hoped to fly from my very head,

and would have, I have no doubt, had not
.....the first splash of kerosene
launched a seething skin
.....of flies into the air
and onto me, the cloud of them dense and dark my mother in the distance
saw smoke and believed as she had feared

I would, that I had set my own
.....fool and staggering self aflame,
and therefore she fainted and did not see the fire kicked
the other billion flies airborne
.....exactly in the shape
of the horse itself,

which rose for a brief quivering
.....instant under me, and which for a pulse thump
at least, I rode--in a livery of iridescence, a mail of exoskeletal facets,
wielding a lance of swimming lace--
.....just as night rode the light, and the bones,
and a sweet, cleansing smoke to ground.


What a fantastic (and also hideous) poem. It certainly captures what I imagine that must've been like. I found it mesmerizing. (shudder)
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