News Poetry: The Judas Horse

The Judas Horse

In the forgotten acres
of the American west,
sun-splashed, alkaline places,
stone-strewn and arid,
there are pockets of wild horses
living on miles and miles of miles
and miles.

Bands of ten or twenty, sorrels and buckskins,
duns, and blacks and paints—
wide-eyed wary descendants
of hard luck ranchers and miners,
even a few whose lineage dates
to the Spanish, surviving now in the company
of lions, coyotes, red-tailed hawks.

Are they symbols of freedom, succeeding
on the fringes or an over breeding burden
on the landscape? They have become a burr
under the algorithm of BLM wildlife managers,
tasked with managing the unmanageable.
And every now and then, they round them up
with helicopters, descending with a whir
of dust and adrenaline.

But all would be mayhem, save for the
one tame mare or gelding,
known cryptically as a Judas Horse,
embedded two weeks previously,
who leads them, wide eyed, hoof to tail
into the funnel and the corral that awaits.

I suspect, back at the pen,
the bit burns and blisters,
and the saddle singes the withers
on the one chosen to betray
these wild brethren destined for adoption
or domesticity or death.

Photo credit: BLMIdaho, Creative Commons, Flickr

Frank H. Coons is a veterinarian and poet living in Colorado. His work has appeared in The Eleventh Muse, The Santa Fe Literary Review, Pilgrimage, Imprints, Pinyon Review, El Malpais, Fruita Pulp and elsewhere. He was a finalist for the Mark Fischer Prize in 2011 and 2013. His first collection of poems, Finding Cassiopeia was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award in 2013. His second book of poems, Counting in Dog Years has recently been released. Both books were published by Lithic Press.


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