Poetry London Clore Prize 2018 COMMENDED 4: After Zhao Mengfu’s Bathing Horses by Tarn MacArthur

Now the warring is over
the ritual begins, and those

men we’ve come to know
in blood and barbarism

return again to the heart’s
work of tending to its love,

while set outside this frame
of mind the machinations

and skullduggery of empire
and dynasty go galloping

forever on. But for today
such ablutions are enough:

pouring water on a flank
or brushing down a fetlock,

the whole lakefront imbued
with red dun and chestnut,

skewbald and cremello,
those fashions of the day

stripped off along the shore.
See how every cleansing

touch is a gift gifted back
in fellowship and husbandry

rekindling a peacetime
faith all thought was lost?

Until we have to believe
that this tenderness exists

beyond acts of symbiosis,
that if the horses scatter

the men turn to each other,
bare chested and wading

through an eden they never
thought to enter, reaching

with their opened palms
as blackbirds script the air,

to be held but never tamed,
feel pain but never broken.


Judge’s Report by Kwame Dawes

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