"That negation which is the life-breath of materialism."
A neighbor calls. “Just so you know, Curtis,
I just saw your daughter up on the hill
Walking toward some wild horses.” I laughed.
“I think she knows not to try and pet them.”
Still too visibly a city girl, she gets this
All the time. But it made me think of the horses.
There are no wild horses here, of course. Not the
Steppe’s proud tarpan; not the true
American horse, a hundred centuries past,
Felled by big monkeys from Siberia. Lawrence
Called ours the great death-continent; that death
We taste in the clear air of the forty-mile view,
The invisible water of the glacial lake—nothing
Is seen, since nothing can live. Yet horses live?
But these are not Jagger’s wild horses; not
Even Spanish mustangs. Early last century
Their ancestors were simply set free.
Need I say why? Without time to evolve
Guts to eat sagebrush, as the mule-deer can,
They found grass enough on these hills, these
Islands in the desert, as Abbey put it, to—
To what? The proper term is “feral,” but
Any fool can see: these beasts are just lost.
You almost can pet them. Once I was trying
To get one off my land, through an open gate
Twenty feet away. I failed completely.
I could not even make him notice me
From any distance I could consider safe.
A real animal would have been long gone, or
Ridden me down with both hooves; a ton
Of meaningless meat. To what? To—to live?
This horse is the living chemical memory
Of the muscle that made the West; of “saloons,
Gunfights and stagecoaches,” and plenty
Of hauling and dragging, and waiting and waiting—
That vast, unknowable herbivorous patience—
And what, of this story, survives? Nothing but
An anomalous tolerance for big monkeys. And
What do they do all day, these lost horses?
Wander around and eat grass. Even the cougars
And black bears are too small to hunt them.
You can see them looking at you, as if
This thing with two legs must mean something.
How could they ever know what it was?
America is the great death-continent,
Irrelevance the greatest of great deaths. Once
Death was a bomber from America. Now
”America is a university and a currency.” Perhaps
The husks of that first extinction, mastodons
Scraped from the plain like windshield-bugs,
Dawn horses sent flying with the dandelions,
Are still hungry. They still have something to say.
To live? “Too bad she won’t live.” The lesson
Of these horses, for me, my daughter and my country
Is the death-lesson: that form of lesson
Which is perfectly clear, yet too heavy to learn.