Carol Muske-Dukes, Poet Laureate of California and Renaissance woman,  is a novelist, the author of seven books of
poetry, and as essayist is the arrow that says “You Are Here” to
women of our age.  She is also an essential book critic, a traveling
educator and founding Director of
the Ph.D. Program in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Southern
California, where she teaches and guides students to The Truth (yes, with a
capital “T”).

The world is so lucky to have her voice as we see it in
this poem, which centers around her late husband, the actor David Dukes.

We are
proud to present it in celebration of Academy Awards Weekend and in thanks for
poets, actors and the impulse to create that arise out of the state she
represents so well.

— Laura Sillerman


I once saw,  just outside Santa Fe,
a horse fall to the earth on purpose.

It happened in the scene where  the outlaws
came galloping across the creek, firing
their pistols into the air. The riderless
horse, galloping, knew exactly when,

as its hoof touched the far bank,
to stumble and roll on its side in
the dust – and though the cameras
blocked sight suddenly, I kept seeing it,

the sudden drop, the flailing legs. Re-lit
Genesis, a fall away from God’s hand. I
couldn’t imagine it, even as I saw it
happening, heard the impact of the body.

That morning I’d watched a wrangler
teach the horse to go down. Prompted, it
bowed, then dropped to one knee, then
the other , then slowly rolled. Deep bow,

the knee bent, head bobbing, the man showing
the horse in silence how to set the will against
instinct, how to unbalance what is built into the heart.
Each time the director nods, they come across again,

shooting, splashing as the horse begins to stagger.
Years ago you told me how an invisible river
runs through a herd of fast horses. Then
why does this animal, one of a pack trained

to act on command, push out beyond the rest?
Willing to trust a voice over its own flowing
terror, over the shots fired skyward, spinning
eye-sticks?  I don’t know if the horse loved

its trainer, if  it’s that easy. Like saying that
there was a streak beyond self-preservation
in you, some way you calmed yourself with
your own voice as you brought yourself to earth.

Though sometimes now I think of you as Lucifer,
whom I loved perversely as a child, listening
to my mother recite his demise. On his “faded
face”… “Deep scars of Thunder had intrencht”

and his heart was wild.  A wild horse still, a Lucifer.
The scars came from hearing, an octave above thunder,
something of  Paradise — that you and only you,
in your capacity to hear and translate, your capacity to
re-make this world,  would willingly, dangerously, obey.

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