Clydesdales: A poem and the story around its birth



(from: Ballast House of Anansi Press, c. 2000. Karen Houle)



Tobias is a child of my friends, Norah and Greg.

At the time of the poem, Toby was about 3-4 years old. We were visiting their farm.

I believe we had just figured out that perhaps he was deaf. At the time of that visit, maybe he couldn’t “lip read”… yet. I just remember him running around with his sister, Paige. 

(I always think about what the silence would be like… and if you had no language or words, you would only know the change of air pressure in your ears, without sense. You could also feel the change in air pressure in your mouth, or around the mouths of others, including the animals. )


This is a poem whose subject is the pressure that is breath. 

His parents are farmers.

They have work horses (“draft horses”) to do the work of ploughing (not tractors, machines). Well they have those two, but they also still work the farm (and the bush) by horse.  By choice. 

Clydesdales are a type of draft horse.

Very old species. Pre-industrial revolution.

People once had to rely on horses for everything. (Maybe vice-versa, or maybe that dependence is growing more taut)
This poem has a strong feeling about our having to rely on X or Y or Z for something else, and in that, discovering limitations and capacities that are "invisible"

In this case, to “understand” what the horses needed on a very cold day, maybe it was Toby who could best “feel” what they were saying, but not by words or sounds… just by the very particular sensitivity he had to changes in wind and air and breath changing..

He was actually in the stall, among the horses, totally small and totally unafraid. I was so struck by that. I was afraid of the horses and stayed behind the fence. They are huge beasts. Terrifyingly large. But there he was, walking among them.

I also had another insight or thought at that moment, too. It was this:

The hot breath coming out of the horses mouths and nostrils… and out of the mouths and nostrils of the humans (his family)… maybe he also wondered if there was something else going on other than just air moving in and out? Maybe maybe he had a inkling that there was (what we call) "speech". And that he was not a part of that particular universe of breath-as-consonants+vowels in circulation….



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