Archive for September, 2017


For Erika Ricci and Anna Lisa Rosetti




”I am not dumb now,” was Helen Keller’s proud,

challenging statement of fact. Those who can

see, she said, should be “knights of the blind”.




From the horsemen of the Apocalypse

to the breaking, millennia ago,

of wild horses on the western steppes

beyond Volga-Matushka – Mother Volga –

these beasts are both utility and symbol.


In the Aber Valley, where the Afon Goch –

the Red River – falls precipitously

and the princes of Gwynedd rode and hunted,

there have been feral ponies for centuries,

grazing by the river, under the alders,

unmolested. Last year’s snows culled many.


In Ireland, where the horse was revered in myth,

the companion of kings and goddesses,

there are thousands abandoned. In Dublin,

on a cut-off estate – workless, drug-peddled –

a man ran over a horse with a quad bike

repeatedly, and others beat it with planks.




We visited the Palazzo dei Duchi –

near to the site of the town’s small ghetto –

by the Catania Gate, Taormina,

Sicily, once a medieval palace  built by

Spanish nobles, knights of the inquisition,

now the municipal art gallery.

And, by chance, we encountered a tale

of beasts made beautiful, the lost found.


Twenty nine paintings hung in the gallery:

an exhibition – that toured Milan,

Rimini, Terra del Sole and Forli –

to celebrate human diversity

and the curative power of horses.

It was inspired by a horse called King,

an Arabian gelding blinded

by corrosive chemicals –

il cavallo daglie occhi di sole,

the horse with the eyes of the sun.

His affliction, his strength, his compliance

rescued a young woman, an addict,

from her darkened, silenced wilderness.




Note: The Horse With The Eyes Of The Sun



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… inflated, a fiver, Made in Spain, bought

with candy floss and a fluorescent snake;

harness, saddle, accoutrements in red

and gold with tassels; caparisoned as if

for the Spanish Riding School in Vienna

or the corrida; forever prancing

with a winsome, vulnerable chestnut eye

but, though deflating, still too big for the long

drive south so left with us for safe keeping…


It rides unseen in the gazebo – secure

from downpours or gusts or jackdaws – becoming

one dimensional. Perhaps we will

frame it as a keepsake.




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Whichever way the visitors choose to come –

up the steep, narrow road with blind corners

and left onto the Harlech Castle car park

or walking down from the high street – most

make for the statue, especially those

with young children attracted by the horse.


It is a war horse, so the tail is docked.

Its neck and head are lowered, its legs splayed,

its nostrils flaring, its eyes wide. It carries

two kings: Bendigeidfrân – Brân the Blessed

– and his nephew, Gwern, a boy still, who lies dead

across the horse’s flanks, bound in a cloth

wrapped tightly round his uncle. Brân – whose name

means ‘Raven’ – is hairless, his arms merely stumps

and his legs lopped off below the knee.

He was once a giant who crossed the sea

in a dozen strides. Later in these same

Irish wars his head will be severed.

His seven companions will bring it back

talking to Harlech, where it will hold court

for seven years. They will bury it

on the westernmost isle of Gwales.


The sculptor’s work is mostly busts or statues

in bronze of figures of note: statesmen,

soldiers, artists, and these mystic kings

from the Mabinogion. Most visitors

are silenced by the three figures though some

seem unconcerned by the horror or are

too embarrassed to mention it.

The littoral that features in the stories

is now populated with caravan sites.


Such rhetorical bathos is arriviste,

for they were bards for millennia,

makers of metaphor. ‘The severed head

spoke. But one, curious for truth, opened

the forbidden door…’. Before messiahs,

before calendars, before the curve

of the imagination, ‘the waters

turned, replete with gods and birds, unsung,

unblessed, empty of man’.




Note: The statue is ‘The Two Kings’ by Ivor Roberts-Jones –




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On a strip of unfenced scrubland – adorned

with scattered wild roses white and pink –

between the main road and our apartment,

a Roma family had pitched a low tent

of sun-bleached canvas, beneath two stunted

umbrella pines, set up a cooking pot

and tied their horse to a tree with a long tether

so it could graze on whatever was there.

There were three of them: a middle aged couple,

and an old woman – the women in black,

the man as tall, lean and brown as the horse.

Each morning the two women, the younger

carrying a striped, faded folding chair,

would walk down the hill to the small town’s

supermarket, where the elder would sit

until siesta, hand outstretched, silent.

The couple would make favours to sell

from chamomile, pimpernel, lavender.


One early evening as we watched ‘Who wants

to be a millionaire’ to improve

our limited knowledge of the language –

questions and answers being sub-titled –

we began to hear from somewhere outside,

despite the air con and the tv,

a voice in extremis. We pressed ‘Mute’,

turned off the a/c and opened the window.

We could see three seated figures illumined

by the cooking fire.  One of the women,

we guessed the younger, appeared to be

haranguing the other in a strident,

unceasing monotone. We saw no one

in the windows of the walled villas

on the opposite side of the road

and ‘Who wants…’ continued loudly throughout

the apartments. We had understood nothing.


Next morning, the routine was as usual:

the horse cropping, the favours, the begging.

None of their temporary neighbours

seemed to be concerned about whatever

farce or tragedy they had not observed

or curious in any way about

this threesome and their horse. Nobody

appeared to have been outraged. No one

was holding a placard demanding

whatever someone in our smug nation

would have demanded. Perhaps only those

for whom impoverishment

and tyranny have not yet become

abstractions can tolerate charity

among wild rose bushes.




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i.m Alan and Claudia Dench


After much diligent work in the stable –

helping brush out, adding water to the oats –

our grand daughter rode Harold round the paddock.

My cousin watched from the terrace, anxious,

encouraging, while her husband led the gray

as she sat astride, in all the right gear,

with all the natural seriousness

and dignity her five long years had taught her.


It was spring there in the narrow valley

an hour or so drive from the Pyrenees.

The snow melt was rushing through the stream.

The banks of the lanes were tangled

with celandine, violets and cranesbill.

A doe broke cover on the high pasture

and a cuckoo called from the distant woods.

But the reins remained safe in her small hands.


There is something ancient, archetypal

about a human on a horse – power,

respect, empathy, symbiosis.

I smiled at my cousin and nodded, thought of

our ghosts – her mother, my parents, theirs;

motley, eclectic generations –

acknowledging our brief destiny, that

infant, that horsewoman.




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