Size of a postage stamp—you’ll hardly know the saddle’s on your back. And the jockeys, they’re little guys, like elves. On race day the grooms’ll oil your hooves, plait your mane, bang your tail. You’ll parade to the starting post, your sleek shoulders gleaming, and the jockeys’ silks’ll billow in the breeze, all blue chevrons and pink polka dots, and green stripes—lots of stripes—on the sleeves. Go ahead and flare your nostrils. Dance a little jig. Shiver your hide. Add to the excitement, if you can. I used to bounce—just a tad, on my hind legs—to remind my jock it might be a bumpy ride.

Winning’s fun. You’ll see. Get your nose under the wire first, and next thing you know, you’re in the winner’s circle, your withers draped with flowers, everybody smiling, smiling, their hands patting your neck, your rump, the thunder of each furlong still ringing in your ears. Stand there like a table, a leg in each corner, and raise your head high, giving ‘em that look of eagles. Mouth your bit—it’ll feel hot as a skillet. And sparks will fly from your flanks.

In response to artwork by:
Deborah Butterfield
Ponder, 1981

wood, wire and steel
74 1/2 x 115 1/2 in. (189.2 x 293.4 cm)
Collection of Phoenix Art Museum, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Jay Cooper and funds provided by Mr. David Kluger, Mr. and Mrs. Orme Lewis, Mr. Karl Lilienfield, Mr. and Mrs. S. Kootz, Mr. and Mrs. H. Luce and Mr. and Mrs. R. Miller, by exchange


“I have loved horses all my life. It was not difficult, therefore, to choose Deborah Butterfield’s sculpture Ponder as the inspiration for my poem. Butterfield considers her sculptures as personifications of herself, so I thought it appropriate to speak in the voice of an experienced racing mare mentoring a younger filly. In 1949, on the day Deborah Butterfield was born, a thoroughbred racehorse named Ponder won the Kentucky Derby. I fully understand the significance she finds in that synchronism.”

Joanna Thomas makes collages from paper and poems from words, and may have been a horse in another life. She currently lives in Ellensburg, WA, on the wrong side of the tracks, with her dog Archie. No cats.

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