Reginald Dwayne Betts

What We Know of Horses



& when my brother says Swann Rd.

is the world, he ignores boarded

vacants, broken windows – this place’s

shattered glass? He tells me

“believe the world is tenement house,

a pocket full of stones, a world

of ghosts, & what’s left of ash &

smoke after each inhale.” I visit now

that a prison cell holds his world.

Dead men circle every block

we know, thread this world

with quotes from psalms, “the sorrows

of death embrace me,” “some trust

in chariots and some in horses.”

They embrace metaphor, disbelieve

gravity, breathe in a haunted world.

& what of my brother? Running

these streets, he was a horse –

graceful, destined to be

broken. Why admire horses?




Why compare everything fast

& beautiful to horses?

My daddy’s generation had a saying

for men lost in the world,

it was true of my uncle, my cousin –

men strung out on horse,

chasing the dragon, shivering

with the memory of that stallion

gone postal in their veins –

called them lost in place,

with cities buried inside them – horses

inside them stampeding.

My brother put his faith in horse,

& there is no map to find him now.

He tells me he inhales

the funk of men doing life

& knows he is in hell,

that he has dug his grave

amongst bricks that embrace him.

He – exile, with only rusted iron

& bricks bracing his two hundred pounds.


Who admits this cage embraces

him? “History is written

on the back of the horse” broken

by the world. We all in prison now.

I stare at this man, my kin

ruined by embracing

night. Call this place a horse collar,

& watch how it cuts into skin,

how the leather embraces

all of our necks. Even as a visitor

behind plate glass I brace

myself for cuffs. This not Swann

Rd., this burden placed on me,

these memories of courtrooms

& the places where bodies were found.

& still, I want to stop & embrace

my brother, to hold him close

& pause to inhale the scent of prison,

to tell him what I smell, what I inhale,

is still the body of a man.




How can a man inhale

so much violence & not change?

I light my Newport, inhale.

Think on how his voice has changed.

My man, now a feral horse

wearing kick chains: unable to sleep,

always on guard, inhaling

the air for prey, as if he is still

the predator, as if he can inhale

death & keep on living. Death

the elephant in this world.

I imagine the other men here, all

in a world filled with a casket’s aftermath.

How much grief can you inhale?

My brother tells me he prays

at night, he wants to leave this place.

But we know all his wild hours placed

him in this mural of blood.

His hunger placed him in C-block,

Cell 21. It suffocates

& nothing replaces time.



“You okay in here?” I ask.

But he’s in a place

only he knows. When he walks

away he embraces

the kind of rage I fear. A man

killed a man near him, placed

on a gurney & rushed

down a sidewalk. Dead

in a place where no one gives

a fuck if you’re breathing.

To be a horse galloping away

is what I want for him,

he wants horse trundling through

his scarred veins. Prison

has taken the place of

freedom, even in his dreams.




& I know, this is not a “world

where none is lonely.” & I know,

he is lost to the world,

& I know he believes this:

“I shut my eyes and all the world

is dead,” & I know that there is

still a strip, a place

that he believes is the world:

Swann Rd., where he can inhale

& be free. Sometimes his cuffs

are on my wrists & I embrace

the way they cut, as if I am the one

domesticated, a broken horse.



“What We Know of Horses” is performed with Tsitsi Jaji, and is from Bastards of the Reagan Era (Four Way Books, 2015).