National Poetry Month April 6, 2020
Nicholas Alexander Hayes
The Skin Horse
Dostoevsky dreams of a man beating a horse. Onlookers only smile.
The dream ends and the novelist awakens, thanks god, and smiles.
Napoleon on his rearing steed embodies the red genius of Hannibal.
His steadiness on the precipice keeps his starving troops going for stony miles.
Deprived of sustenance, wild chimps show fear by laughing.
One raised by sailors judges us but can, thirsting, only smile.
The chimp’s severed hands were used as grotesque ashtrays.
His children taught to ape us by smoking can no longer force a smile.
Baudrillard knows that the real is seduced into simulation
Like wool covering a concrete lamb with a placid molded smile.
“I suppose you are real?” said the Velveteen Rabbit. And then he wished he had not.
For he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.
Thrown against each other in the night, velveteen slumped against leather.
The horse supports the rabbit who, of course, only smiled.
After the boy’s sickness, the gardener incinerated his contaminated toys.
Flames cut up the horse’s flanks. The gardener, without remorse, only smiled.
Remembered laughter in the playroom signals loss.
A prodigal young man forgets his past need and only smiles.
Originally published in Animal: A Beast of a Literary Magazine
1. What inspired you to write this poem?
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams is a book that haunts me with considerations about what makes something real. This poem was about me making a line of flight from that book to Raskolnikov’s dream of the horse in Crime and Punishment to Kafka’s A Report to an Academy and then to Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation. Each of these leaps was about me trying to figure something out about animals, people, and objects we imbue with emotional meaning. (Of course, I edited my original leaps to make the poem flow more smoothly.)
2. What do you like about this poem?
I like that I was able to integrate an actual quote from Williams’s The Velveteen Rabbit into the 6th stanza.
3. What would you change about this poem?
I think I could have worked harder to make the second line repeat the word “smile”, so I could have hewn closer to a ghazal structure.
4. Where, when, and how often do you write?
I try to write for a few minutes every morning before I go to work. I give myself some time to free write and some time to write in a form like a haiku or a sijo. These form poems often don’t see the light of day, but they are good practice. I usually edit the previous month’s brainstorming on the train to work. But often a good podcast (like Mike Duncan’s Revolutions or Avren Keating’s Waves Breaking) distracts me from my revisions.
5. What poetry books are you reading right now?
I am currently reading Jake Skeet’s Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers (Milkweed Editions). T.J. Anderson III’s Devonte Travels the Sorry Route (Omnidawn) is next up. (Unless, I finally break down and read Moby Dick again.)