HORSE LATITUDES


By PAUL MULDOON

FARRAR, STRAUS AND GIROUX

Copyright © 2006 Paul Muldoon
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-374-17305-0


Chapter One

BEIJING 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.

BAGINBUN 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.

BANNOCKBURN 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.

BERWICK-UPON-TWEED 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.

BLAYE 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.

BOSWORTH FIELD 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 o[ a cyst he'd held so close inside his shirt.

BLACKWATER FORT 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?"

BENBURB 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.

BOYNE 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.

BLENHEIM 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.

BUNKER HILL Carlotta took me in her arms as a campfire gathers a branch to itself, her mouth a cauter set to my bleeding bough, heehaw. Her grandfather sterilizing his saw in a tub of 100-proof firewater, a helper standing by to stanch the bleeding in some afterlife. No looking daggers at the knife. She'd meet the breast-high parapet with the nonchalance, the no fucking sweat of a slightly skanky schoolmarm though the surgeon was preparing to ganch her like What's-his-face's Daughter.

BRANDYWINE I crouched in my own Little Ease by the pool at the Vanderbilt where Carlotta crouched, sputter-spur, just as she had in the scanner when the nurse, keen-sighted as a lanner, picked out a tumor like a rabbit scut on dark ground. It was as if a fine silt, white sand or silicate, had clogged her snorkel, her goggles had fogged, and Carlotta surfaced like flot to be skimmed off some great cast-iron pot as garble is skimmed off, or lees painstakingly drained by turnings and tilts from a man-size barrel or butt.

BADLI-KE-SERAI Pork barrels. Pork butts. The wide-screen surround sound of a massed attack upon the thin red cellulose by those dust- or lust- or must-cells that cause the tears to well and well and well. At which I see him turning up his nose as if he'd bitten on a powder-pack like yet another sad Sepoy who won't fail for the British ploy of greasing with ham the hammer or smoothing over Carlotta's grammar: "On which ... On which Bush will come clean." Her grandfather a man who sees no lack of manhood in the lachrymose.

BULL RUN While some think there's nothing more rank than the pool that's long stood aloof from the freshet, I loved the smell of sweat and blood and, si horse dung Carlotta shouldered like an Aqua-Lung as she led me now through that dewy dull and spread her House of Tartan waterproof. As we lay there I could have sworn, as I staved through unruffled thorns that were an almost perfect fit to each side of the gravel pit where she and I'd tried to outflank each other, I traced the mark of a hoof (or horseshoe) in her fontanelle.

BRONKHORSTSPRUIT I traced the age-old traduction of a stream through a thorn thicket as a gush from a farthingale. Skeffington's Daughter. Skeffington. Attention. Shun. Attention. Shun. Shun. Shun. We lay in a siding between two rails and watched an old white horse cross the picket of himself and trek through the scrub to drink from an iron-hooped tub with the snore-snort of a tuba. His winkers and bellyband said scuba, while his sudden loss of suction Carlotta knew meant a pump whose clicket's failed in the way a clicker fails.

BASRA "The way to relieve the tension on the line to a windjammer is to lubricate the bollard so it's always a little slack ..." Her nonno giving us the inside track on how the mule drivers whooped and hollered on the dock. No respite from his yammer on boundlessness being a bind and the most insidious kind of censorship self-censorship while he took Carlotta for a quick whip through conjugation, declension, and those other "crannies of the crammer" in which she'd been "quite unscholared."

BAZENTIN As I was bringing up her rear a young dragoon would cock a snook at the gunners raking the knob of High Wood. Tongue like a scaldy in a nest. Hadn't a Garibaldi what might lie behind that low-level throb like a niggle in her appointment book. Dust? Fust? Must? The dragoon nonplussed by his charger taking the rust and, despite her recalcitrance, Carlotta making a modest advance when the thought of a falchioneer falling to with his two-faced reaping hook now brought back her grandfather's job.

BEERSHEBA Now summoned also the young Turk who had suddenly arisen from that great pile of toot, heehaw, as from one of Beersheba's wells. Like the sail that all of a sudden swells on the yawl that all of a sudden yaws, a wind finding meaning in a mizzen and toppling a bouncy castle. Her grandfather fain to wrastle each pack mule to a rubber mat whereat ... whereat ... whereat ... whereat ... whereat ... he would eftsoons get down to work, reaching into its wide-open wizen while a helper clamped back its jaws. BURMA Her grandfather's job was to cut the vocal cords of each pack mule with a single, swift excision, a helper standing by to wrench the mule's head fiercely to one side and drench it with hooch he'd kept since Prohibition. "Why," Carlotta wondered, "that fearsome tool? Was it for fear the mules might bray and give their position away?" At which I see him thumb the shade as if he were once more testing a blade and hear the two-fold snapping shut of his four-fold, brass-edged carpenter's rule: "And give away their position."

TITHONUS Not the day-old cheep of a smoke detector on the blink in what used to be the root cellar, or the hush-hush of all those drowsy syrups against their stoppers in the apothecary chest at the far end of your grandmother's attic, nor the "my sweet, my sweet" of ice branch frigging ice branch, nor the jinkle-jink of your great-grandfather, the bank teller who kept six shots of medicinal (he called it "theraputraquist") whiskey like six stacks of coppers stacked against him by the best and brightest of the American Numismatic Society from the other side of 155th Street, nor the in-the-silence-after-the-horse-avalanche spur-spink heard by your great-great-grandfather, the Rebel yeller who happened to lose a stirrup and come a cropper at the very start of the Confederate offensive in the west, nor even the phatic whittering of your great-great-grandmother ("such a good seat") whose name was, of all things, Blanche, nor again the day-old cheep of a smoke detector on the blink in what used to be the root cellar but what turns out to be the two-thousand-year-old chirrup of a grasshopper. BOB DYLAN AT PRINCETON, NOVEMBER 2000 We cluster at one end, one end of Dillon Gym. "You know what, honey? We call that a homonym." We cluster at one end, one end of Dillon Gym. "If it's fruit you're after, you go out on a limb." That last time in Princeton, that ornery degree, those seventeen-year locusts hanging off the trees. That last time in Princeton, that ornery degree, his absolute refusal to bend the knee. His last time in Princeton, he wouldn't wear a hood. Now he's dressed up as some sort of cowboy dude. That last time in Princeton, he wouldn't wear a hood. "You know what, honey? We call that disquietude. It's that self-same impulse that has him rearrange both 'The Times They Are A-Changin' and 'Things Have Changed' so that everything seems to fall within his range as the locusts lock in on grain silo and grange." THE BIDDY BOYS We've turned a corner in the ancient Barony of Lurg when we come on six or seven worthies in straw capes and hats. Their roundy heads are wrapped in muslin. A geranium, that must be, through the curtained window. The curtained window of the wake house their Captain now enters. A white horse bustling under his bustling sheet. His wooden horse head fitted with some kind of spike. He pricks a mourner here and a mourner there. A mourner here and there cries out. "The Humours of Kesh" played on two fiddles. A pair of rain-bleached horses standing head to tail. Standing head to tail like some old married couple. The geranium of your mouth through that curtained window: "Things were bad for a long while but now we've turned a corner." ALBA I was baffled, baffled as one who wakes in an open field to find the circus has pulled up its stakes and uncovered the Sargasso of the So-and-Sos' pool, the pool from which some kid had filled the radiator of their, drool, Mercedes-Benz "off-roader," the Sargasso where the Big Top must have stood. Last night the rigging growled and grunted, clippety-clop, just as Carlotta emerged from the duckweed to announce her name was an anagram of "oral fucking tact." I heard that. While the others swam we lay alongside each other to gam as whalers gam. Where we once had made good weather was now a region of calms in which the no-can-doers at last did medallions of veal with hearts of palm, in which the Arabian stallion still managed a salaam despite Carlotta's jettisoning his six mares in an effort to break the deadlock. This was the field where our sons and heirs had been playing Little League when we met, where she asked me to imagine a sky grown pale from too much sun. I imagined it. I imagined, too, the bleached snatch of sail with a list of putative damages to the So-and-Sos' Gel��ndewagen, the receipt from Jiffy Lube for a new radiator hose, and-a bit like an eel-this equestrienne's whip. SOCCER MOMS They remember Gene Chandler topping the charts with "Duke of Earl" when the boys were set on taking the milk bar's one banquette and winning their hearts, Mavis and Merle, as it seemed their hearts might be first to yield, hearts before minds. Time for stilettos. Time for spivs with shivs. The time of day when light fails on the field while their daughters, themselves now tweenie girls, crowd round a coach for one last t��te-��-t��te. They remember Gene Chandler topping the charts with "Duke of Earl" while the world still reeled from the anti-Castro Cubans going to sea in a sieve, as it seemed. Their hearts might be first to yield if only after forty years of one plain, one purl, on the sweater they've sweated over for a Bay of Pigs vet, and winning their hearts, Mavis and Merle, may now be faintly likelier for a well-heeled schlub to whom they once wouldn't so much as give the time of day. When light fails on the field a schlubster linesman will unfurl an offside flag that signals some vague threat, they remember. Gene Chandler topping the charts with "Duke of Earl" for three weeks only in 1962 might have taught them to shield themselves against the lives their daughters briefly relive, as it seemed their hearts might be first to yield to this free kick that forever curls past the goal-mouth, a ball at once winging into the back of the net and winning. Their hearts, Mavis and Merle, hanker for the time when it was not yet revealed failure's no less literal than figurative, the time of day when light fails on the field and gives back a sky more muddy than mother-of-pearl, so it's with a deepening sense of regret they remember Gene Chandler topping the charts with "Duke of Earl" and winning their hearts, Mavis and Merle. (Continues...)



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