Spring in the Valley of the Racehorse

Spring in the Valley of the Racehorse
In her well-tended garden, 
March is always a revelation, a generous
parcelling-out of leaf
and feather, the branches 
sieving dark green onto pale
and the small birds fluent.

An untried colt, he ran green,
tilting awkwardly at the windmills
of spring that swung the shadows
and the sun around
in dizzying beats
upon the firm ground. 
Still, he ran out an easy winner, 
unbothered by the coppery 
heat of the afternoon.

She shines the window-glass;
her cloth, a starter's
old-fashioned flag. The breeze
is brisk, her pace easy. 
She is well within herself. 
The fine weather holds. 
Any cloudbursts will be light
and temporary.

He tenses against the hot
metal of the starting-gate,
eyeballing the wide swatch
of flat green that vanishes
sweetly in the distance. 
He's learned to ignore 
the impure source of noise, 
the sharp, irregular
flashes of the sun
on glass discs, to keep
his mind within
the miraging posts of white, 
evenly spaced along the track. 
He blows a little,
focused as the noonday sun
that would blind a person
were they to look at it too long
and too hard.
Tracey Herd

from Identity Parade: New British & Irish Poets edited by Roddy Lumsden (Tarset: Bloodaxe, 2010)

Reproduced by permission of the author.
Tracey Herd

Tracey Herd was born in East Kilbride in 1968 and has lived and worked in Dundee; she is now working as a Royal Literary Fund Lector and participating in their Bridge Project.



Read more about this poet
About Spring in the Valley of the Racehorse

This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2010. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2010 was Jen Hadfield.

Editor's comment: 
This dizzying poem skews our vision. The perspective is skewed too; the human and equine protagonists merging, perhaps the reader merging with racehorse and rider; the sunlight and shadow synaesthetically warped. I've been thinking a great deal about effort and fluency in poetry recently, and Herd's poem says it all: 'The breeze/is brisk, her pace easy./She is well within herself.'

Author's note: 
I'm not entirely sure where this poem came from. Nearly all of my racing poems have been centred around a specific horse or horse race. Reading back over it, the woman is recently bereaved, elderly, just about coping. She owns a two-year-old colt who is full of promise. They have a connection. All rather vague! I wanted to convey a sense of beauty, freshness and hope, that glorious moment where all is possible and we dare to believe that something wonderful might just happen.

Of course, every year, at the start of each new racing season there is that sense of excitement. It is part of what I love about horse racing: it's a microcosm of life, an endless cycle of hope and anticipation, of disappointment and grief and what might have been. And sometimes, what is. It's a delicate balance. It's an obsession for me and has been so for nearly thirty years.