Racehorses at Longchamps

(Degas, 1906)

The waiting is almost over.
The sky presses down
as it presses down before a storm,
thickening the light,
making the turquoise, mustard and pink silks
glow like aquarium fish.
Nerves ripple
through coal and chocolate flanks.

The riders’ heads are turned away.
Their backs and thighs alone describe
the honing down of minds
to something animal,
too far inside themselves
to register the houses on the hill,
the flecked and distant crowd,
the deep green trees.

This was his moment, always.
A neck sponged above a tin bath,
the cellos tuning up,
the final adjustment of a shoe.
Before the horses swung
towards the flutter of the tape
and the tiny gestures
which told the heart’s small story
vanished in the roar.

(not included in The Talking Horse)