Horse Latitudes: Poems

Horse Latitudes: Poems

by Paul Muldoon

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The title of Horse Latitudes, Paul Muldoon's tenth collection of poetry, refers to those areas thirty degrees north and south of the equator where sailing ships tend to be becalmed, where stasis (if not stagnation) is the order of the day. From Bosworth Field to Beijing, the Boyne to Bull Run, from a series of text messages to the nineteenth-century Irish poet Tom Moore to an elegy for Warren Zevon, and from post-Agreement Ireland to George W. Bush's America, this book presents us with fields of battle and fields of debate, in which we often seem to have come to a standstill, but in which language that has been debased may yet be restruck and made current to our predicament. Horse Latitudes is a triumphant new collection by one of the most esteemed poets of our time.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466879799
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 09/02/2014
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 120
File size: 151 KB

About the Author

Paul Muldoon is the author of nine books of poetry, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning Moy Sand and Gravel (FSG, 2002). He teaches at Princeton University and, between 1999 and 2004, was professor of poetry at Oxford University.

Paul Muldoon is the author of several books of poetry, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning Moy Sand and Gravel (FSG, 2002) and, most recently, Maggot (FSG, 2010). He is the Howard G. B. Clark University Professor at Princeton.

Read an Excerpt

Horse Latitudes

By Paul Muldoon

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2006 Paul Muldoon
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-7979-9




    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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 of a cyst
    he'd held so close inside his shirt.


    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?"


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    I crouched in my own Little Ease
    by the pool at the Vanderbilt
    where Carlotta crouched, sputter-sput,
    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.


    Pork barrels. Pork butts. The wide-screen
    surround sound of a massed attack
    upon the thin red cellulose
    by those dust- or fust- 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 fall 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.


    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, , horse dung
    Carlotta shouldered like an Aqua-Lung
    as she led me now through that dewy dell
    and spread her House of Tartan waterproof.
    As we lay there I could have sworn,
    as I stared 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.


    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 clicket fails.


    "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."


    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.


    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.


    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."


    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 "therap-
    utraquist") 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

    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.


Excerpted from Horse Latitudes by Paul Muldoon. Copyright © 2006 Paul Muldoon. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Horse Latitudes,
Bob Dylan at Princeton, November 2000,
The Biddy Boys,
Soccer Moms,
As Your Husband Looks Up to Our Window,
The Procedure,
The Treaty,
At Least They Weren't Speaking French,
The Old Country,
The Outlier,
It Is What It Is,
Flags and Emblems,
90 Instant Messages to Tom Moore,
Turkey Buzzards,
Starlings, Broad Street, Trenton, 2003,
The Coyote,
Now Pitching Himself Like a Forlorn Hope,
The Landing,
The Mountain Is Holding Out,
Medley for Morin Khur,
The Last Time I Saw Chris,
Hedge School,
Sillyhow Stride: In Memory of Warren Zevon,
Also by Paul Muldoon,

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