The Cariboo Horses

Al Purdy

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At 100 Mile House the cowboys ride in rolling

stagey cigarettes with one hand reining

half-tame bronco rebels on a morning grey as stone

— so much like riding dangerous women

          with whiskey coloured eyes —

such women as once fell dead with their lovers

with fire in their heads and slippery froth on thighs

— Beaver or Carrier women maybe or

          Blackfoot squaws far past the edge of this valley

on the other side of those two toy mountain ranges

          from the sunfierce plains beyond


But only horses

                  waiting in stables

hitched at taverns

                  standing at dawn

pastured outside the town with

jeeps and fords and chevys and

busy muttering stake trucks rushing

importantly over roads of man’s devising

over the safe known roads of the ranchers

families and merchants of the town

                  On the high prairie

are only horse and rider

                  wind in dry grass

clopping in silence under the toy mountains

dropping sometimes and

                  lost in the dry grass

                  golden oranges of dung


Only horses

         no stopwatch memories or palace ancestors

not Kiangs hauling undressed stone in the Nile Valley

and having stubborn Egyptian tantrums or

Onagers racing thru Hither Asia and

the last Quagga screaming in African highlands

         lost relatives of these

         whose hooves were thunder

the ghosts of horses battering thru the wind

whose names were the wind’s common usage

whose life was the sun’s

         arriving here at chilly noon

         in the gasoline smell of the

         dust and waiting 15 minutes

         at the grocer’s

Al Purdy, “The Cariboo Horses” from Beyond Remembering: The Collected Poems of Al Purdy (Harbour Publishing, 2000). Copyright © 2000 by Harbour Publishing. Reprinted by permission of Harbour Publishing.