We drove Holsteiners and broke Palominos,
too ornery to plow. Never had to guess an age or ask, just read
the ridges of a tooth.
We bought them at the moots, it was our kind of revival.
The big farrier, bent-backed in the shoeing tent, absolved
the horses of their hooves, piled trimmings taller
than the boys who furtively watched him muscle foreleg
and back, and wink and grin. A colt robbed him of his front teeth
year before, now he smiled half-silvery.
You had to be smart enough to survive the horses,
our litany went. The spirit moves you, a gut-crawling tingle,
you duck or rear up, get out of hoof-shot, out from the stirrup’s noose.
The valley’s hunt club was mostly Quaker folk and Methodists.
Saturdays we’d sing the bawdier hymns and someone’d pass the flask.
Clothed in the blood, clothed in the skin–
postmen, farmers, laborers, roofers, barman brought their horns,
brass and dinted, but how they shone in the winter chase.
Their dogs were mutts, but on Sabbath they
were fox-hounds, Triggs, Black & Tan Virginians, Welshies, good and true
and broken-in, tuned to horn calls–clothed in the blood, clothed in the skin.
There’s a horse-talk in my family that bloodies like a spur,
worries like a childhood psalm–clothed in the blood, clothed in the skin,
clothed in the man, God dresses in sin–after the hunt,
flanks would froth with sweat and mud and red.
What was left of the foxes, their hearts past syncopation
with the shouts of men and dogs and horns, were barely ragged pelts.
We’d string them on farmer’s fences to dry, pass them next Saturday
nod, almost cross ourselves–clothed in the skin.
When one of the horses slipped, cannon bone cracked in wrong ways,
the old men never called the butcher.
We don’t pull teeth neither, it all goes in the grind: so fox-hounds
ate large for a few days: hooves, heart, flank muscle, familiar eyes,
even the bones scattershot broken. Our hunting is a circling practice.
My grandfather fell one November and his horse rolled,
left him in mud and thistles with a busted kidney, alone.
He wanted to cough out his insides, fever-wondering all the while
if they’d pull his silver fillings because they’d gum-up the grinder.
In the horse-thought of my family he knew it was right to be left
to his hounds instead of smothered in the earth.
String him on a farmer’s fence–clothed in the blood–to dry.
A dog bites for two reasons: for meat or for loyalty,
in the end, he knew he was only meat.
But the horse was grazing in the blackberry thicket and he crawled
to the saddle, nearly emptied his bowels getting upright,
and rode to the car.
Laying there, laying on the horn, he thought of the feeding days
after a horse was lamed: how they’d be unrecognizable, but
noble, as noble as meat gets, being slopped
to the hounds. Clothed in the blood, clothed in the man,
he let loose his clarion call again.
Christian Rees is an alumnus of Loyola University of Maryland’s writing program. He was born & raised along the banks of the Delaware River, under dogwoods & oaks. He has been published online in JMWW, the Boston Poetry Magazine, & upcoming in Row Home Lit. Most recently his poem ‘The Bone House’ was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He divides his time in Austin working in prison outreach & running long distances.