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Black Staccato Hates (the Horse's Man)
Graham Tugwell

These are the fields to wildness lost; no plough has touched for twenty years. Given, surrendered, lost to the horses.

And you— lost in loveless grieving. You are the horse’s man. The hands and the voice of the king of the horses.

Running with them across hedgeless fields; soaked, muddied and gaunt; a naked dirtied ape scuttling pale amongst those black and shining muscleflanks— the thunder of hooves mocked by the slapping of your unshod feet.

Sleeping curled under rain, snatches of half-sleep minutes in length, there in the dirt between their legs, dreaming blank dreams filled with the whinnying voices, before the troop moves on and you must stagger and follow, weeping, forgetting why you can only weep.

Eating—for days the memory to eat is forgotten—eat grass they mock, eat grass and you try, you try while the horses mock with their minds, mouth mashed green with the effort and body raw from retching. Into the town and the bins at night—a running ghoul in the sodium glare; tin scrapings, tea bags, potato peels, grease.

Everything forgotten—nameless now, no past, no future, just the disjointed present— cold wild fields and the musty warmth of the black horses.

You are the horse’s man—their voice in the town of man.

Meeting your eyes with their brownblack heavy-lashed orbs, feel the razor-hum rising in your jelly-soft brain, their stinging wishes looming large in your mind—the voices of the horses unheard and unwavering, incessantly condescending in want.

These black staccato bursts of static whine, dropping thoughts in an eye-blink, fully formed forcing your own to fragment and flow away. Resting like hoofprints on the stuff your mind is made of, squeezing, pushing; beading bulbs of blood on the lobes of your ears— now black and crusted from the blood you’ve been bleeding these long and hungry years.

And at the incestuous heart of this congress of horses, the tallest and blackest, standing hands above the colts and fillies he has sired— the dark one, the king of the horses, prince of the black staccato.

He is the worst; when he calls it feels like all your thoughts and memories are stripped away anew, emptying you, leaving nothing but the wants of the king, burning like coals in the folds of your brain.

He is calling to you now. Black staccato hums. There is work to be done this day, and you are his will given form. The word made flesh.

Now horses troop, a broad-arrow, up from the fields under mounting thunderheads and down through town, causing cars to mount pavements or come to collision. Words charge before the horses— the king—children pulled from gardens, shop shutters clatter down—the king!—curtains pulled, doors slam— the king of the horses comes!

Hoof-cracks on asphalt fail to smother the shrill-bass humming rising in the depths of your mind—you clear your aching throat to announce the wishes of the black staccato prince. Commanding bullets burst— sees you shrieking “Come out! All of you! The king commands!”

Your voice is shrill against the clouded threat of black thunder rolling in from the fields, pushing its bend of clinging warmth before it.

Down the street the horses move in a ragged wave; the rolling breakers are block-muscled youths, colts and fillies quick to snort and bite their displeasure, while rising above them, the swell at the heart of this wave, gallops the king of the horses, fury-eyed, storm-maned, shadow-oiled.

Slowly the townspeople emerge, moving between crooked cars, like whipped dogs returning to their master’s fists, averting their gaze from the black-muscled forms strutting as if this place is theirs and theirs alone.

And they watch you too; that limping mad-eyed ape skulking among those sweating, stamping legs, the thing forced to be their hands and voice against its will.

“A foal,” you scream, the cords in your neck pulled tenuous thin, “one of our own taken, unwillingly taken.”
Hot buds of blood rest on the rims of your ears.

THING: BRING THE GUILTY FORWARD—the king sets you screaming— “Bring the guilty forward, there will be justice—this insult will not be endured!”

Voices in the crowd; low and fearful...

Thin rain and distant thunder; there outside the vets at the curve in the street, “Return it,” you are coerced in angular nakedness to growl, “return it or feel the heart of hate!”

And the outriders part and the king comes forth, head low and humming—humming—

Hold a flower-fire in torture opening, bursting bomb-soft petals tissue-thin, fall heavy tender lightness, burning cold iron-hot on the base-soft skull, sends screams rising shrilly from the core of the crowd.

People drop insensate, bloody-eared, tooth-loose, thigh-soiled, laid low by the forceful hum. Unpleasant squirming deep in your bowels, blood in your gums and ears— the king of the horses is humming!

Voices rise, the crowd surges, the door of the vet’s is forced—

A man bursts forth, vomited up by the reeling crowd; white coat stained and ripped by reaching unruly hands.

A nail has caught his cheek, his blonde hair is bloodied, his glasses lost to the mob.

In the roadway, heavily breathing, rain melting clothes to chest and back, he stands silent between cowering crowd and glowering horses.

Like a dying heart the crowd palpates and spills another shape upon the rain-slick roadside; a whimpering, quivering jelly of a man, denuded of trousers, holding in teeth with corpulent hands. Weeping: “Please, no, please, it was injured—it needed our help— it was injured—”

But the vet stands in silences, watching the horse king strut, wet muscles moving like fishes in oil.

THING: WHERE IS MY PROPERTY? pushed through your mind like a thumb through butter—

You cry through the rain, above the thunder: “Where is the foal? Where is the king’s property?”

Scrabbling hysterically on doll-like hands and bloodied knees the fat man screams “It was hurt—it was hurt—it was hurt!”

But the vet is unmoved.

The king of the horses strides forward, his mind like a black wave crashing down, knocking a swooning swathe through the crowd, calling a cough of blood to your mouth, emptying the bowels of the fat man, and forcing the gasping vet to his knees.

Bright blood flows from the ears of the accused, trickling down the curve of their jaws, dropping in water, dropping in filth.

From the hinge-splintered door of the surgery a group moves slowly, stooping under the weight of the foal brought forward— a dark and skinny thing, limp and unmoving beneath its bandages, a thing all snout and neck and bony legs.

THING: HANDS commands the king, and you limp forward to receive the unwieldy warmth of the foal. Weak: you can barely hold it.

Don’t you drop it, don’t you dare drop it, your thoughts scream.

And the king of the horses turns in the street, faces away from the blubbering fat man.

“In the road,” he mumbles, eyes closed, “found it in the—”

With a whinnying toss of its ebon mane, the king kicks a hind leg cruel, cracking the neck of the fat man wetly, snapping his shocked face up and around.

A moment kneeling straight, then softly sighing a mortal sigh, the dead man sinks in his own excreta.

And only now does the vet Gillespie open his mouth, shouting: “I have a son—I have a son—I have a son—”

But with a sickening crack of meat the hoof of the king connects and the vet is silenced.

Thin rain mingles with the blood from smashed mouths and punctured ears. The crowd breathes out.

“Remember what you saw this day,” you shout as flanking horses turn and trot away, “and know the penalty of any interference with the congress of horses.”

You turn and—


“Oh, Kenneth, come home!”

A woman has burst from the bulge of the crowd, has grabbed you, is fiercely pulling at you with a mad woman’s grip.

“Remember Kenneth—remember—“

Remember... remember?

Something shifts softly in the supple scape of your brain.

And you remember the space someone left in your thoughts –

The bend of an elbow.

The flash of a spade.

A fold in cloth...

But fill that space—you can’t, nothing fills those ragged hollows—nothing but the thrush of static black staccato.

“You’re sick,” she cries, her face so red, so pale, “you’re sick, oh Kenneth please.”

Your mouth opens, the gape of wet cloth folded, but nothing comes out. No words of your own, all replaced by the words of the king.

Then the horses push close, cutting her reaching fingers from you— she’s pregnant; you see she’s heavy with child—

Hollow mind echoes—nothing to fill it— The fold— the fold in haunting cloth.

Black ribflanks like bulwarks force her down.


Her eyes—grey strips wide with aching—falling heavily, birthing bellied, the horse guards close in, pushing her prone and stamping— once, twice— with dread efficiency. Leaving you stunned though their cavalier cruelty should stun you no more.

An urgent hoof stamps your will to flatness— you must move on, must keep pace with the cantering king of the horses, the trotting monarch of demon dark.

With a hollow mind you leave the town behind.

The foal in your arms is heavy, weakly breathing; you can feel the life leaving it, running through your fingers, feels like you are leaving a trail of life behind you on shocked and silent streets.


Think of her, pulled down by hooves, her grey eyes wide, hands over her belly, protecting in vain.

Run after the horses melting back into the darkness of fields.

Think: Who were you? Back in the real world?

You carry the foal back to the wild fields spreading in folds of dark felt beyond the town.

And the foal perishes that night. But it dies amongst its own at least. The way it should be.

The storm has passed, has left things trembling, heavy with vulgar wetness.


You dance in moonlight across wet fields, a feeble, rattling skeleton, naked and grinning, the laughter of the horses hot in your mind, a rasping staccato bleat.

And you look at your feet. Something took your toes, cut clean away by some blade unknown.

Back in real life. Back in the world.

Her eyes... heavy with birth... you’re sick... come home...

Like a petal resting on water— the memory is there—always there.

You remember forgetting; remember the feeling of knowledge leaving you.

How could you forget?

You were...

And you had...

It’s all there.

Awareness; a soft birthing— what are you doing?  What have the horses done to you?

Stumbling to a stop as the laughter fades.

Your wife and child.

Anger crushes your insides—

“I was a man!” you scream, trembling, “I was a human being! I had a name—I had a life!”

Horses silent... watching.

“You took it away,” you sob, sliding to the ground, “My family. My home. I had love. I had love...”


With soft clopping hooves the king approaches.


“No,” you pant, fists balled, “don’t take— don’t take—“

The king is coming.

Frantically strain to keep knowledge safe within your mind.

Your name is—your name is—

You knew love. You knew love—

And she was—


Humming hate pressure builds behind your eyes—

The glare of the king is upon you— all else falls away, leaving just blackbrown orbs of furious passion.

Stripping it away. Piece, by piece, by piece. Stripping it all away again.

And then...

Then there is nothing but the laughter of horses and their black staccato hate.

They make you remember that you are forgetting.

As you dance, you dance, you dance.


And forever.

The horse’s man.


Graham Tugwell is a PhD student with the School of English, Trinity College Dublin, where he teaches Popular and Modernist Fiction. The recipient of the College Green Literary Prize 2010, he has work forthcoming in Kerouac’s Dog magazine.
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