History in the horse’s face
The wagon rests in winter, the sleigh in summer, the horse never. ~Yiddish Proverb
I stopped at a shop in Olde Town Square Shopping Center near Longhill and Olde Town Road in Williamsburg, VA, today. One of the shop’s owners—who seems inevitably to be there—is a voluble Moroccan thirty-something guy whose name escapes me, mainly because he’s about 6’5″ tall and by the time I get by that, I’ve missed the name. Tried it twice. Too late now to try it a third time. He’s just going to have to shrink before I ask him his name again.
He’s somehow under the impression that I’m a writer, maybe because I told him I was working on a book. Let me tell you—working on a book is not the same thing as being a writer. But I go along with this mistaken assumption because it’s understandable. Many people who work on books actually are writers. And because I have a hard time getting a word in edgewise with him.
Suddenly he’s explaining Arabic epic poetry to me. Something about how a man’s stature can have nothing to do with his bloodline or education or accumulation of worldly possessions. It’s the sense of story that arises around a campfire when someone is off and running with a particularly good tale.
I know this feeling. I have watched the sparks rise, felt my cheeks warm, teared up in a wayward finger of smoke. And listened. Or, in some cases, talked. My stories are never long. But at least they’re uninteresting. Which explains in some oblique way why I am working on a book.
So, from somewhere around the fire, comes the interesting story. And, true to form, all the world fades away save for the story and the storyteller’s voice.
My garrulous friend provides a smidge of background exposition in the event that I have no inkling of Arabic epic poems. Which in truth I haven’t. But the smidge he provides resonates: In the lives of the tribe, a man’s horse is important.
In fact, I know in my heart of hearts—perhaps a heart that has lived in other lives, for many lives, or in fact simply recalls the brief moments I’ve spent in this life with bored tourist horses that were forced to take the same trail, day after day, with strangers whose reining and kicking could be safely ignored, as they were neither knights nor soldiers of any kind—far from it—but were instead out of shape, sunburned, unskilled, likely overweight businessmen and women, or whimsical and unpredictable children. Unless I believe in reincarnation, I cannot have known any other kind of horse than the totally defeated, demoralized horse of the type I’ve ridden. Ridden, I assure you, with appropriate embarrassment and sadness, and with no alternative apparent at the time.
But here, my Moroccan friend recounted the battle of a warrior whose horse was wounded beneath him. Falling. The warrior scooting out of the way, turning. The horse looking at his master, with an expression. An expression that said: “I am sorry for letting you down.”
And that’s what tribal poets do. That’s why they are revered. And when it matters, their voice is the only voice you hear.
Posted on August 29, 2014, in Animal rights, Animals, Cultural observations, Poetry, Storytelling, Travel, Writing and tagged animals, campfire, epic, horses, love, poet, poetry, tribes, war. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.