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by Gwendolyn MacEwen

“Verily dawn is the head of the sacrificial horse, the sun his eye, the wind his breath, universal fire his open mouth…the stars his bones, the clouds his flesh…”
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

I would rather journey down your lean breath
or down the skyways of your flesh
than ride by night these weary skies,
for in your eyes I see the death of death,
the morning of the world.
But there are many kinds of riders,
some riding wild and some riding blind
and one who cried, “It is Accomplished!”
just before he lost his mind.

If you join me you’ll become
another ghostly rider in the sky,
but perhaps we can dismount
somewhere where our myths cannot hunt
us down like falcons
with greyhounds fast behind.

There is a nebula shaped like a horse
whose eye is the living anger of the night,
whose hoof is living light;
suns are plumes on his head, and tens
of millions of millions of miles sigh
between his hearing ears, and down
the dark light-years of his breath
black gas is squeezing inward to his death.

Imagine that the dark is the head of a horse
and the distance of the dark is years of light
where the beast grows inward from a sea of suns
and breathes and dies, yet the plumes
stay his stifled head and he is crowned.
This beast is beautiful, who chokes and rears
and makes no sound.

But I rode before, I rode and fell
in love, from darkness into light,
and once a wise man said to me:
Child, your spurs are foolish stars
by night

Onto the snows below us
I first gave up my soul
and threw myself white onto an altar
of ice, as sacrifice for
I don’t know what,
and trailed white rabbits on the banks
of winter rivers, and was carried
o the white shoulders of snow,
and sometimes I didn’t know
if I was made from snow or flesh,
and my secret, darkest wish
was a world of blue ice, wilderness.

And the wise man said:
Draw back, dreamer, from your dream return;
time takes the river and the passionate altar;
time is a place where only the water burns.
Lock up your tongue in a chain of gold;
a man should not tell where he has been
unless by chance another tale is told.

But we are the first riders
and we are the last; because
there is nowhere to go, I come,
and no tomorrow, I follow, no past.

A rider on a red horse, I
am the sun-child whom the world failed,
and I cry for the earth, the earth
which has failed and dropped away
(my hands my eyes my heart
have also dropped away).
The red horse who sired me
is trapped between my thighs,
coloured like soil, like my secret flesh
he runs, with stars colliding, and my spurs
cannot touch him and my reins
cannot hold him back.
Are we on the right track?

Old Man
How can the lovers lead us?
At any moment they might change their minds;
they turn the world, you see, and we
can only go completely mad or blind.
Theirs is a crazy energy like that of God
and their horses, have you noticed,
go unshod. Me, I’m a blinded rider
going ever blinder in the eye
as the unseen landscape passes by.
Whole mountains and whole seas escape me
though a hawk’s wing against my cheek
is a catastrophe.
And my certain inner eyes spins out
continents which are not there, skyways
which are not there, comets, frozen stars.
I seem to travel better without sight
and they are soft and blunt, my spurs.

But now I drop the reigns and fall
and give all of it up to night –
my body and the black horse, my soul,
whatever that is; but falling I am
pure light like Lucifer
and men will read wonders in my descent
and build shrines over my shattered bones
and say:
Once upon a time a Horseman
dropped straight from the sky,
and it was raining death and dreams that day;
he was the Fourth Rider.
Let us Pray.

How many riders have gone down?
I fly now where I’ve never flown!
(the turning blood, the bleeding
clouds, am I
the world’s next offering?)
We are three now. we were four;
I can’t ride more.
We were four, now we are three;
aging rider
wait for me. Take me home
you beast between my thighs;
tell them I’m coming.
Shut my eyes.

I won’t continue; it’s far too far
and I’ll go down with them, loud and soft
as a falling star. Love,
will you come after me?

What we ride rides us finally;
we were life’s avengers, angels
of the end, because our spurs
were yearning wheels of time,
because we dared to ride the sky.
Could we do other
than destroy?
In your eyes I thought I saw
the death of death,
and you with me between stars hurled
were wind, were perfect breath –
look, we were tricked and ridden
but once, O once we were
the riders of the world.