"How to Draw a Horse" by Robert Miltner
after a linocut by Marc Snyder
Begin with a pyramid. With an Egyptian riding a horse across the sandy expanse, planning to have his cats and liver accompany him to the afterlife, a place where honey never goes bad.
After the Israelites leave, the British will arrive, pockets stuffed with guns and laws, filling the coal cars with pirated mummies they’ll toss into the locomotive’s fire, fuel for the Colonial train.
But today the Egyptian basks in the sun like a sphinx, head held high, centered in a momentary universe. A cloud briefly covers the sun like an eye patch, then passes. Leaving only a horse.
My poem "How to Draw a Horse" began as an ekphrastic piece written in response to a linocut by my friend Marc Snyder of Pittsburgh, who by the way has great politics. I was going for the magic and transformation of art, but as I wrote it, the pyramidal images in the original, and the horse, suggested Egypt. I recalled something I had read about the British colonizers actually using mummies for the trains. This, of course, evoked Middle Eastern history, colonialism, and all that comes with that. But for the moment, all I could see was a man on a horse--Arabian, in my mind, but not in the poem--proud and free. And that seemed somehow a symbol of what all people who are displaced or oppressed want--to live free. That is life as transformation.
I have read the poem a few times at peace readings--a May 4th reading at Kent Stark, once, for example--and it seems that listeners don't respond as they do to poems with more direct contemporary references, like to Iraq.
I don't belong to any established peace organizations, really, though I go to rallies and readings associated with American Friends, Code Pink, the Huron group for Peace and Justice, some May 4th readings, and the like, and I organized a fundraiser reading for Poets Against War. I have always supported candidates who worked for peace: Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern, and Dennis Kucinich specifically, and Obama in this election, knocking on doors, registering voters, trying to get people to be The People. I support UPJ, US Labor Against the War, and the ISO. Each, as Whitman would say, is a part of the whole.
This past fall I was invited to read in the Columbus as part of the event for Sam Hamill at OSU when he read with Elinor Wilner and Breyten Breytenbach--three strong voices for human rights and peace. I was part of a community of Ohio pacifist poets with whom I have read several times. Isn't that what we do--form communities? Stand together as readers that takes us beyond our separateness as writers? Is this how art transforms us?