I discovered this poem while reading up for this series. I love it. It’s long, but absolutely worth it.
“The Horse Thief”
William Rose Benet
THERE he moved, cropping the grass at the purple canyon’s lip.
His mane was mixed with the moonlight that silvered his snow-white side,
For the moon sailed out of a cloud with the wake of a spectral ship.
I crouched and I crawled on my belly, my lariat coil looped wide.
Dimly and dark the mesas broke on the starry sky. 5
A pall covered every color of their gorgeous glory at noon.
I smelt the yucca and mesquite, and stifled my heart’s quick cry,
And wormed and crawled on my belly to where he moved against the moon!
Some Moorish barb was that mustang’s sire. His lines were beyond all wonder.
From the prick of his ears to the flow of his tail he ached in my throat and eyes. 10
Steel and velvet grace! As the prophet says, God had “clothed his neck with thunder.”
Oh, marvelous with the drifting cloud he drifted across the skies!
And then I was near at hand—crouched, and balanced, and cast the coil;
And the moon was smothered in cloud, and the rope through my hands with a rip!
But somehow I gripped and clung, with the blood in my brain aboil,— 15
With a turn round the rugged tree-stump there on the purple canyon’s lip.
Right into the stars he reared aloft, his red eye rolling and raging.
He whirled and sunfished and lashed, and rocked the earth to thunder and flame.
He squealed like a regular devil horse. I was haggard and spent and aging—
Roped clean, but almost storming clear, his fury too fierce to tame. 20
And I cursed myself for a tenderfoot moon-dazzled to play the part,
But I was doubly desperate then, with the posse pulled out from town,
Or I’d never have tried it. I only knew I must get a mount and a start.
The filly had snapped her foreleg short. I had had to shoot her down.
So there he struggled and strangled, and I snubbed him around the tree. 25
Nearer, a little nearer—hoofs planted, and lolling tongue—
Till a sudden slack pitched me backward. He reared right on top of me.
Mother of God—that moment! He missed me … and up I swung.
Somehow, gone daft completely and clawing a bunch of his mane,
As he stumbled and tripped in the lariat, there I was—up and astride 30
And cursing for seven counties! And the mustang? Just insane!
Crack-bang! went the rope; we cannoned off the tree—then—gods, that ride!
A rocket—that’s all, a rocket! I dug with my teeth and nails.
Why, we never hit even the high spots (though I hardly remember things),
But I heard a monstrous booming like a thunder of flapping sails 35
When he spread—well, call me a liar!—when he spread those wings, those wings!
So white that my eyes were blinded, thick-feathered and wide unfurled
They beat the air into billows. We sailed, and the earth was gone.
Canyon and desert and mesa withered below, with the world.
And then I knew that mustang; for I—was Bellerophon! 40
Yes, glad as the Greek, and mounted on a horse of the elder gods,
With never a magic bridle or a fountain-mirror nigh!
My chaps and spurs and holster must have looked it? What’s the odds?
I’d a leg over lightning and thunder, careering across the sky!
And forever streaming before me, fanning my forehead cool, 45
Flowed a mane of molten silver; and just before my thighs
(As I gripped his velvet-muscled ribs, while I cursed myself for a fool),
The steady pulse of those pinions—their wonderful fall and rise!
The bandanna I bought in Bowie blew loose and whipped from my neck.
My shirt was stuck to my shoulders and ribboning out behind. 50
The stars were dancing, wheeling and glancing, dipping with smirk and beck.
The clouds were flowing, dusking and glowing. We rode a roaring wind.
We soared through the silver starlight to knock at the planets’ gates.
New shimmering constellations came whirling into our ken.
Red stars and green and golden swung out of the void that waits 55
For man’s great last adventure; the Signs took shape—and then
I knew the lines of that Centaur the moment I saw him come!
The musical-box of the heavens all around us rolled to a tune
That tinkled and chimed and trilled with silver sounds that struck you dumb,
As if some archangel were grinding out the music of the moon. 60
Melody-drunk on the Milky Way, as we swept and soared hilarious,
Full in our pathway, sudden he stood—the Centaur of the Stars,
Flashing from head and hoofs and breast! I knew him for Sagittarius.
He reared, and bent and drew his bow. He crouched as a boxer spars.
Flung back on his haunches, weird he loomed—then leapt—end the dim void lightened. 65
Old White Wings shied and swerved aside, and fled from the splendor-shod.
Through a flashing welter of worlds we charged. I knew why my horse was frightened. He had two faces—a dog’s and a man’s—that Babylonian god!
Also, he followed us real as fear. Ping! went an arrow past.
My broncho buck-jumped, humping high. We plunged … I guess that’s all! 70
I lay on the purple canyon’s lip, when I opened my eyes at last—
Stiff and sore and my head like a drum, but I broke no bones in the fall.
So you know—and now you may string me up. Such was the way you caught me.
Thank you for letting me tell it straight, though you never could greatly care.
For I took a horse that wasn’t mine!… But there’s one the heavens brought me, 75
And I’ll hang right happy, because I know he is waiting for me up there.
From creamy muzzle to cannon-bone, by God, he’s a peerless wonder!
He is steel and velvet and furnace-fire, and death’s supremest prize;
And never again shall be roped on earth that neck that is “clothed with thunder” …
String me up, Dave! Go dig my gravel! I rode him across the skies, 80