Mudlark Flash No. 87 (2014)

Tonic of Wildness
Poems by Barbara March

Photo of Wild Horses
Photo by Helen Valborg

Author’s Note: Forty-two years ago President Richard M. Nixon borrowed from Thoreau when he signed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. “We need the tonic of wildness,” Nixon said quoting Walden, adding that he took “special pleasure...signing strong legislation to protect these noble animals.”

Today there are more mustangs (or feral horses as they’re now called by the federal government) in captivity than there are running free. Over 50,000 wild horses are stockpiled at taxpayer expense in Bureau of Land Management holding facilities in the Midwest to prevent them, as the BLM postulates, from over-running the public range and competing with private permitted grazers. We’re told that these government holding facilities are filled to capacity.

Wild horse roundups, or BLM “gathers” as they’re euphemistically called, have been temporarily suspended. But the horses are adapted survivors and their numbers continue to grow. Inevitably, helicopters will again take to the air to run horses to exhaustion, to push and prod foals to the trap.

This inhumane treatment and waste of taxpayer money will continue until reason prevails over emotion and political posturing and a solution is found to honor and manage these horses rather than disparage and exterminate them. Wild horses stand in the way of political agendas, but more desperately their eventual decimation will represent another loss of our own right to wildness.

O Sun of the Grace Note

As the steam came up from holes 
in the earth we watched it spread 
its breath as we faced east
at a certain time to wait
for the sapphire light to strike 
our bodies and we stood 
where we knew 
the sun arrived first, the same every day, 
a little up, a little down, some days 
it did not come and we waited, 
and in those same places, 
our heads low in belief
of silver air, coldest
of all the night, 
our coats reached out
into the near dark and said, 

Here is heat, here I am.

And we were content to follow 
the sun to shadow or small bunch grass
or little water where our days reflected 
back to us all we knew, of time and light,
of wildness and innocence. 

Wild Horses Talking to Pegasus

Tell your one-eyed half-brother,  
double-bred to chaos, 
whose heart echoes off the rock 
even as we bolt
the narrow place, we forgive him.
But why, why do you let him 
torment our children
with his banging fists? You, 
who touch down and bring 
us spring water. 

Wild Horses Talking to Birds

In spring we share the lesser and the large. 
Gladly we give comfort to your nests, 
soft with our shedding. 

Tail pullers at our sun-curling,
collecting life lost in winter wind, 
we humor your pinch.

Wild Horses Talking to People

There was a desert place out east of town
where you yearned to be small enough,
to walk without purpose,
to forget the dead pile
in your pastures. 

Out east you believed differently
than when you grouped to sing or pray. 
Out east all bets were off, 
and each one to each one, 
you sought us; part dusk, part dawn.

You went out for a rest or afternoon
not hidden as in town, 
but telling each other the old stories
of endless grass, and as you went you looked; 
sometimes rocks moved or tall rye. 

Sometimes you waved your hands
in the cold but we did not
come down to show ourselves, 
yet the light might betray us.
How creatures want to possess each other, 

how one of us stole your mare
to join our wild herd. At the time
you shunned and envied us and, at once, 
diminished trust in your own nature; 
our hope, substance, legend, 

all taken away by too much talk.
The moon was sear those days, 
in that winter night of begging silence
down and down you heard our endless hooves
mostly in winter when light was low.  

To a Wild Foal

sore June child
spider woven silk
dapples your slight mane


People are told wild horse roundups are safe, and not done
during June foaling season. Government contractors are promised
three hundred a head for each horse removed from the range.
Police are hired, gates installed. Helicopters stampede bands
of wild horses through the desert. Newborn foals
who can’t keep up are bound with rope, to picked up later,
three hundred a head. 


sore June child
spider woven silk
dapples your slight mane. 

Roundup Schedule

I will, I will on thee
the focus of the policy

Bait trapping
Water trapping
Darting PZP

Nut Mountain
Fox Hog
Devil’s Garden
Three Fingers
Piute Mountain
Outside Beatty’s Butte
Chocolate Mule
Skull Valley
Dog Skins
Granite Peak
Divide Basin
Lost Creek
Antelope Hills


Barbara March’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Berkeley Poetry Review, Denver Quarterly, Tupelo Press 30/30 Project, Written River, Red Rock Review, and Words Fly Away: Poems for Fukushima Anthology among other places. She is a member of the Northern California Book Reviewers and serves on the poetry judging committee for the Northern California Book Awards. She is the co-founder of the Surprise Valley Writers Conference and lives in Cedarville, California.

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