The men wrap burlap over splitting hooves
and rig wide shoes to fool the ice. The men
fill diaries with haunch and hoof,
quirks and favorites. With frostbit hands
the men brush their ponies twice daily.
Stroke and groom.
Punch, Nobby, Guts, Blücher, Blossom,
Jimmy Pigg, Weary Willie, Uncle Bill
Nightly, the men hack shelters in snow
to protect them. Which are nightly
then rebuilt as tents fray.
I must say that the abandoning of the ponies
was the one thing that had never entered my head.
Their implicit trust in us was touching to behold.
Misplaced, mis-engineered and miscast
as steeds for these knights—or so
the men imagine themselves, trudging
toward a goal found only by magic,
lodestone bowing to earth’s nadir—
it’s the ponies that pull this tale,
make these blusterers attendants:
The poor beast was barely able to struggle out
of the holes it made as it plunged forward.
Choose only white ones, Scott ordered.
But what do ponies know of Empire and the National
Effort? Of stiff upper lip and steely jaw?
Guts himself had gone, and a dark streak of water alone
showed the place where the ice had opened under him.
Braided tails brittle with ice. Tack tattering
in katabatic winds. Ideas of care were rent.
Poor trustful creatures! Getting the pick I struck
where Titus told me.
Feed bag now lining boots. Flank meat
for stew. A mound of snow
blown over the remains.
Copyright © Persea Books 2010
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on behalf of Persea Books.