When poet Derrick Brown moved from the city of Austin to more rural Elgin, Texas, he was searching for “a peaceful plot of land to hunker down.” The pastoral surroundings, as well as the cycle of life he observed around him — like “the birds waiting for carcasses,” he says — enabled Brown to slow down and regain his voice.
Brown told Art Beat that by moving to Elgin, “everything my father wished I was started to hit me: growing food, building fences, riding tractors.”
While he was living in rural texas, one of the two horses he was watching for neighbors was poisoned. Some kids deliberately sprayed pesticide on the animal, causing some of her skin to burn, peel off, and scar. The process of watching the horse heal and redevelop trust for a human inspired the collection’s signature poem and title.
That experience, and others from that time, spurred “Our Poison Horse,” a new collection that hit shelves on Oct 31. The book comes after a 10-year hiatus that the writer took after feeling creatively drained.
Listen to Derrick Brown read “Our Poison Horse” from his book of the same name.
Our Poison Horse
The horse in our field.
The black one.
Our poison horse.
Why would anyone try to poison her?
They think boys wanted the flies on her dead
That or the boys wanted to see her skin peel
The pesticide scar,
healing now as the jagged underline
slowly closes daily
on the mare’s body,
The underlining of everything awful
I ask you if there is anything worth saving?
You land me
a kiss so hot
the ferns die.
A grip so tight,
keep you from volunteering to carry
like an under chucked
A kiss so hot
the butcher’s meat
this coward’s drink,
A last drink
the bell rings
and the crowd wants blood
and the raptors spin.
Your face is leaking
you are the one permanent wedding.
I’m a teenage dog in the back of a truck
I gotta jump. When will it all slow down enough?
You tell me you love me
and it unfolds my will
Brown began writing in 1992 as a member of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.
“In the foxhole I would turn on my red flashlight and read things and rewrite psalms so I could connect with them.”
He was honorably discharged in 1993 and then traveled the United States, reading his poetry at universities and literary festivals. After his pause from writing, Brown wrote “Strange Light,” a poetic play that won the 2013 Texas Book of the Year Award, and opened for the indie rock band the Cold War Kids during one of their European tours.
But, “Our Poison Horse,” is different from his other works — he said he purposely wrote an autobiographical work.
In the title poem of the collection, Brown references a romantic relationship that ended around the same time as the incident with the horses. The hurt and trauma experienced by the horse extends to human nature and the heart as well.
“How could a human hurt something so beautiful … that unfolded all of these poems,” said Brown.
“[But] ‘Our Poison Horse’ isn’t just about that. I took a look at a relationship I was in and wasn’t taking care of it. I realized, we’re probably just like those beasts.”
“Our Poison Horse” from “Our Poison Horse” by Derrick Brown. Published in 2014 by Write Bloody Publishing. Used by permission from Write Bloody Publishing.
Editor’s Note: This article originally stated that “Our Poison Horse” was published on Oct. 1. It was published on Oct. 31. It also said that two horses were poisoned, not one of the two that Brown was looking after, and that Brown was from a rural community in Texas. It was updated on Nov. 21 to reflect these corrections.