Billy Collins

Nine Horses

For my birthday,
my wife gave me nine horse heads,
ghostly photographs on squares of black marble,
nine squares set in one large square,
a thing so heavy that the artist himself
volunteered to hang it
from a wood beam against a white stone wall.

Pale heads of horses in profile
as if a flashcube had caught them walking in the night.

Pale horse heads 
that overlook my reading chair,
the eyes so hollow they must be weeping,

the mouths so agape they could be dead—
the photographer standing over them
on a floor of straw, his black car parked by the stable door.

Nine white horses,
or one horse the camera has multiplied by nine.

It hardly matters, such sadness is gathered here
in their long white faces
so far from the pasture and the cube of sugar—
the face of St. Bartholomew, the face of St. Agnes,

Odd team of horses,
pulling nothing,
look down on these daily proceedings.

Look down upon this table and these glasses,
the furled napkins,
the evening wedding of the knife and fork.

Look down like a nine-headed god
and give us a sign of your displeasure
or your gentle forbearance
so that we may rejoice in the error of our ways.

Look down on this ring
of candles flickering under your pale heads.

Let your suffering eyes
and your anonymous deaths
be the bridle that keeps us from straying from each other

be the cinch that fastens us to the belly of each day

as it gallops away, hooves sparking into the night.