Matthew Olzmann

The Tiny Men in the Horse’s Mouth

Never look a gift horse in the mouth? But what if on the horse’s tongue there’s a tiny little man playing piano? Why would you not look at that? That’s incredible. —Dan Cummins


It’s why the gift horse is a gift,
and there is always a tiny man inside,
though sometimes more than one.

You should look; peer as far back as you can,
because if he’s not playing piano,
he and his friends might be sharpening
blades inside that dark, inside
the horse’s belly, inside your sleeping city.

Twenty men crawl out of the gift: you’ll want to see this;
you’ll want to see how they spill into the city,
and open the gates, and paint everything
the color of burned flesh.

The war is ending. Achilles is dead.
Paris lives on in shame.

And one man
plays piano as the city burns.

I’ve been there. And because I didn’t look,
I never saw it coming.

The phone calls in the middle of the night.
Hospital beds. Friends staggering in,
and the world on fire. The horse’s mouth.

Pry the jaws back
and stare through the phlegm that falls
between the teeth and the hallway of the throat.

Whoever told you not to look at this is hiding something,

because the world is beautiful,
haunted, and begging you to receive its offering.

May you never find such music again.