This poem, clearly steeped in Arthurian legend, transcends its source materials to express subtleties regarding violence, suffering, mortality, and those of us who survive an occurrence of violent death and bear witness.
Amid the debris of a violent battle, Cheung’s speaker draws the reader’s attention to a fallen foal, who “lies wet / curled in a hollow / of snow.” “It does not / try to stand.” With this fact, coupled with the following one that the foal has a spear through its neck, we realize the speaker is only here to show us the horse’s final moments. Without us, the poem implies, the horse would die unattended, unseen, uncared for. Throughout the rest of the poem, we watch on, if not powerlessly, then we do so with language to encode and decode experience as the one inadequate lever of agency we might pull.
In this recording, Cheung’s reading of the poem draws out her implicit empathy for all suffering mammals. Her slow, almost breathy delivery of these starkly compressed lines leaves the reader with a palpable, residual tenderness, one born of grace.
M. Cynthia Cheung is a practicing physician whose poems can be found in The Baltimore Review, Four Way Review, Pleiades, RHINO, swamp pink, SWWIM everyday, Tupelo Quarterly, and more. She is the recipient of an Idyllwild Arts Writer’s Week fellowship, and her work has been recognized as a finalist or semifinalist in the Black River Chapbook Competition, Two Sylvias Press Chapbook Prize, and Tupelo Press’s Snowbound Chapbook Prize and Sunken Garden Chapbook Poetry Award. She serves on the judging panel for the annual Michael E. DeBakey Medical Student Poetry Award.