Horses in Upton Park
I hadn’t expected the horses, splendid
in their yellow smocks and welder’s visors.
What they must have thought of us.
They lived in stables in the field. In scrapheaps
by the motorway, stunted ones, peppered white,
wore ornately coloured saddles,
were tied to little caravans with cardboard
on the windows. Deep down a country lane
a sudden swift galloping blind to ambler
and canine comes. These were different.
Working horses. Pitifully tame. Strangers
to fording polite streams under full moons,
they must dream of acting as statues to anger.
And why they still choose them over
armoured vehicles? The wildness of horses.
How their hooves can crush a man’s
temple with a kick. How, when you’re
close enough to look into a horse’s eye,
there’s something of the past. I’d reach
to stroke a mane but there is sudden news
of an engagement with away supporters,
and when what seemed born to stillness moves,
there’s fear beyond language that sets itself
amongst your bones as though someone’s
suddenly there in the back of the car,
at the foot of your bed, rearing like a horse
on its hind legs. And the terrible sound
of braying penetrates and freezes
and the dark and wild stare is the night before
the first of us found the gift of fire.
Since birth I have been spending here
on rally driving and shoot-em-ups,
on Pac-Man, hockey, and beat-em-ups,
but now, as even the arcade shuts,
engineers (ex-union men) have arrived
to unplug the lot, to wipe the scores
and our initials from the leader board.
Friends, although I haven’t texted
or knocked for you in years, do you
remember how we spent every
weekend of the nineties, and found,
as we left the graphics sharpening
their focus (the almost-perfect hair
and skin), with the bug ignoring
calendars, our hormones fully loaded,
that somehow the game we played,
shooting balaclavaed men in Middle Eastern
markets, had become the actual news?
John Challis is the recipient of a Northern Writers’ Award and a Pushcart Prize. Poems have appeared on BBC Radio 4, and are published or forthcoming in magazines including Butcher’s Dog, Clinic, Iota, Magma, Poetry London, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Rialto and Under the Radar. He lives in the North East and works as a Research Associate at Newcastle University. @Keyholesurgery