New American Studies


Dave Smith

Row upon row of carved stallions time

and earth-weight endow with grace

that pulls still the armies of the Emperor.

Perfect, too, padded vest, lance, brass

wheels no sun can outroll. Warriors

mounted to ride beyond anything alive.


But the fixed step of such battalions—

farriers have told the makers this—

can fade into shriek, a thigh’s bone-snap,

one elegant hoof, and the maker drifts

from his poem to pray—no rip

of harness tumbles his finest squadrons


who can go like wind up cliff’s breast

or gleam little spruce meadows gold

if fear strikes the gods to hurl them.

But if foreheads seem to tremble

as even great horses do, they dream

they are already charging. Art insists


none think to flee when shapes shift.

The visage of the truest blinks

only once, for these it will be never.

All hooked—fist, saddle, forelock

grip upon blade upon bone—to deliver

what matters—duty’s alignments


of flesh, brutes, boys in cocked-up hats.

How could they fail? sculptors boast.

In battle, spit’s drip and blood-bubble

perfectly measures a man, the best

horse for field-clamor, the struggle

of hearts buried. See, each pulls for that.

About the Author

Dave Smith’s 16th book of poems, Looking Up: Poems 2010-2022, will be published in December 2022 by Louisiana State University Press, where it has been awarded the Les Philabaum Poetry Prize. Smith retired from teaching at Johns Hopkins University in 2013. He had previously held the position of Boyd Professor of English and co-editor of TheSouthern Review at Louisiana State University. Smith has been awarded grants from the National Endowment of the Arts, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the Lyndhurst Foundation, and the Rockefeller/Bellagio Foundation. He lives with his wife of 57 years in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.