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Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful: Poems

Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful: Poems

by Alice Walker

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Poems from the author of The Color Purple: “This book has two fine strengths—a music that comes along sometimes [and] Walker’s own tragicomic gifts” (The New York Times Book Review).
 The title of this collection comes from a Native American shaman who, reflecting on the terrible problems brought by white


Poems from the author of The Color Purple: “This book has two fine strengths—a music that comes along sometimes [and] Walker’s own tragicomic gifts” (The New York Times Book Review).
 The title of this collection comes from a Native American shaman who, reflecting on the terrible problems brought by white colonizers, nearly forgave them all because with the settlers came horses to the North American Plains. And, indeed, in these poems we find Alice Walker seeking a saving grace even in the most difficult circumstances, and in the hearts of the most brutal oppressors. Here Walker’s attention turns toward the small moments and subliminal exchanges between lovers and enemies, even as her verse addresses concerns as vast as the choking of the planet by war and pollution.
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Alice Walker including rare photos from the author’s personal collection.

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Open Road Media
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Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful


By Alice Walker


Copyright © 1984 Alice Walker
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4532-2404-5



    Remember me?
    I am the girl
    with the dark skin
    whose shoes are thin
    I am the girl
    with rotted teeth
    I am the dark
    rotten-toothed girl
    with the wounded eye
    and the melted ear.

    I am the girl
    holding their babies
    cooking their meals
    sweeping their yards
    washing their clothes
    Dark and rotting
    and wounded, wounded.

    I would give
    to the human race
    only hope.

    I am the woman
    with the blessed
    dark skin
    I am the woman
    with teeth repaired
    I am the woman
    with the healing eye
    the ear that hears.
    I am the woman: Dark,
    repaired, healed
    Listening to you.

    I would give
    to the human race
    only hope.

    I am the woman
    offering two flowers
    whose roots
    are twin

    Justice and Hope

    Let us begin.


    These mornings of rain
    when the house is cozy
    and the phone doesn't ring
    and I am alone
    though snug
    in my daughter's
    fire-red robe

    These mornings of rain
    when my lover's large socks
    cushion my chilly feet
    and meditation
    has made me one
    with the pine tree
    outside my door

    These mornings of rain
    when all noises coming
    from the street
    have a slippery sound
    and the wind whistles
    and I have had my cup
    of green tea

    These mornings
    in Fall
    when I have slept late
    and dreamed
    of people I like
    in places where we're
    obviously on vacation

    These mornings
    I do not need
    my beloveds' arms about me
    until much later
    in the day.

    I do not need food
    I do not need the postperson
    I do not need my best friend
    to call me
    with the latest
    on the invasion of Grenada
    and her life

    I do not need anything.
    To be warm, to be dry,
    to be writing poems again
    (after months of distraction
    and emptiness!),
    to love and be loved
    in absentia
    is joy enough for me.

    On these blustery mornings
    in a city
    that could be wet
    from my kisses
    I need nothing else.

    And then again,
    I need it all.


    First, they said we were savages.
    But we knew how well we had treated them
    and knew we were not savages.

    Then, they said we were immoral.
    But we knew minimal clothing
    did not equal immoral.

    Next, they said our race was inferior.
    But we knew our mothers
    and we knew that our race
    was not inferior.

    After that, they said we were
    a backward people.
    But we knew our fathers
    and knew we were not backward.

    So, then they said we were
    obstructing Progress.
    But we knew the rhythm of our days
    and knew that we were not obstructing Progress.

    Eventually, they said the truth is that you eat
    too much and your villages take up too much
    of the land. But we knew we and our children
    were starving and our villages were burned
    to the ground. So we knew we were not eating
    too much or taking up too much of the land.

    Finally, they had to agree with us.
    They said: You are right. It is not your savagery
    or your immorality or your racial inferiority or
    your people's backwardness or your obstructing of
    Progress or your appetite or your infestation of the land
    that is at fault. No. What is at fault
    is your existence itself.

    Here is money, they said. Raise an army
    among your people, and exterminate

    In our inferior backwardness
    we took the money. Raised an army
    among our people.
    And now, the people protected, we wait
    for the next insulting words
    coming out of that mouth.


    I never dreamed
    I would learn to love you so.
    You are as flawed
    as my vision
    As short tempered
    as my breath.
    Every time you say
    you love me
    I look for shelter.

    But these matters are small.

    Lying entranced
    by your troubled life
    within as without your arms
    I am once again
    Studying a way
    that is not mine.
    Proof of evolution's

    You would choose
    not to come back again,
    you say.
    Except perhaps
    as rock or tree.
    But listen, love. Though human,
    that is what you are
    to this student, absorbed.
    Human tree and rock already,
    to me.

    S M

    I tell you, Chickadee
    I am afraid of people
    who cannot cry
    Tears left unshed
    turn to poison
    in the ducts
    Ask the next soldier you see
    enjoying a massacre
    if this is not so.

    People who do not cry
    are victims
    of soul mutilation
    paid for in Marlboros
    and trucks.


    Violence does not work
    except for the man
    who pays your salary
    Who knows
    if you could still weep
    you would not take the job.


    The diamonds on Liz's bosom
    are not as bright
    as his eyes
    the morning they took him
    to work in the mines
    The rubies in Nancy's
    jewel box (Oh, how he
    loves red!)
    not as vivid
    as the despair
    in his children's

    Oh, those Africans!

    Everywhere you look
    they're bleeding
    and crying
    Crying and bleeding
    on some of the whitest necks
    in your town.


    We alone can devalue gold
    by not caring
    if it falls or rises
    in the marketplace.
    Wherever there is gold
    there is a chain, you know,
    and if your chain
    is gold
    so much the worse
    for you.

    Feathers, shells
    and sea-shaped stones
    are all as rare.

    This could be our revolution:
    To love what is plentiful
    as much as
    what's scarce.


    When you can no longer
    for thinking of those
    who starve
    is the time to look
    beneath the skin
    of someone close to you.

    Relative, I see the bones
    in your face
    your hungry eye
    prominent as a skull.

    I see your dreams
    are ashes
    that attentiveness alone
    does not feed you.


    I have learned this winter that, yes,
    I am afraid to die,
    even if I do it gently, controlling the rage
    I think of our first week here,
    when we bought the rifle to use
    against the men
    who prowled the street
    glowering at this house.
    Then it seemed so logical
    to shoot to kill. The heart, untroubled;
    the head, quite clear of thought.
    I dreamed those creatures falling stunned and bloody
    across our gleaming floor,
    and woke up smiling
    at how natural it is to
    defend one's life.

    (And I will always defend my own, of course.)

    But now, I think, although it is natural,
    it must continue to be hard;
    or "the enemy" becomes the abstraction
    he is to those TV faces
    we see leering over bodies
    they have killed in war. The head on the stick,
    the severed ears and genitals
    do not conjure up
    for mere killers
    higher mathematics, the sound of jazz or a baby's fist;
    the leer abides.

    It is those faces, we know,
    that should have died.


    Every morning I exercise
    my body.
    It complains
    "Why are you doing this to me?"
    I give it a plié
    in response.
    I heave my legs
    off the floor
    and feel my stomach muscles
    they are mutinous
    there are rumblings
    of dissent.

    I have other things
    to show,
    but mostly, my body.
    "Don't you see that person
    staring at you?" I ask my breasts,
    which are still capable
    of staring back.
    "If I didn't exercise
    you couldn't look up
    that far.
    Your life would be nothing
    but shoes."
    "Let us at least say we're doing it
    for ourselves";
    my fingers are eloquent;
    they never sweat.


    Letting go
    in order to hold on
    I gradually understand
    how poems are made.

    There is a place the fear must go.
    There is a place the choice must go.
    There is a place the loss must go.
    The leftover love.
    The love that spills out
    of the too full cup
    and runs and hides
    its too full self
    in shame.

    I gradually comprehend
    how poems are made.
    To the upbeat flight of memories.
    The flagged beats of the running

    I understand how poems are made.
    They are the tears
    that season the smile.
    The stiff-neck laughter
    that crowds the throat.
    The leftover love.

    I know how poems are made.
    There is a place the loss must go.
    There is a place the gain must go.
    The leftover love.


    If I had erased my life there
    where the touchdown more than race
    holds attention now
    how martyred he would have been
    his dedication to his work
    how unquestionable!
    But I am stoned and do not worry
    —sitting in this motel room—
    for when his footsteps at last disturb
    the remnants of my self-pity
    there will be nothing here
    to point to his love of me
    not even my appreciation.


    When you remember me, my child,
    be sure to recall that Mama was
    a sinner. Her soul was lost
    (according to her mama) the very
    first time she questioned God. (It
    weighed heavily on her, though she
    did not like to tell.)
    But she wanted to live and what is more
    be happy
    a concept not understood before the age
    of twenty-one.
    She was not happy
    with fences.


    I cradle my four-year-old daughter
    in my arms
    alarmed that already she smells
    of Love-Is-True perfume.
    A present from
    her grandmother,
    who loves her.
    At twenty-nine my own gifts
    of seduction
    have been squandered. I rise
    to Romance
    as if it is an Occasional Test
    in which my lessons of etiquette
    will, thankfully, allow me to fail.


    My father and mother both
    used to warn me
    that "a whistling woman and a crowing
    hen would surely come to
    no good end." And perhaps I should
    have listened to them.
    But even at the time I knew
    that though my end probably might
    be good
    I must whistle
    like a woman undaunted
    until I reached it.


    love is not concerned
    with whom you pray
    or where you slept
    the night you ran away
    from home
    love is concerned
    that the beating of your heart
    should kill no one.


    She said: "When I was with him,
    I used to dream of them together.
    Making love to me, he was
    making love to her.
    That image made me come
    every time."

    A woman lies alone
    outside our door.
    I know she dreams us
    making love;
    you inside me,
    her lips on my breasts.


    When I no longer have your heart
    I will not request your body
    your presence
    or even your polite conversation.
    I will go away to a far country
    separated from you by the sea
    —on which I cannot walk—
    and refrain even from sending
    describing my pain.


    With their money they bought ignorance
    and killed the dreamer.
    But you, Chenault, have killed
    the dreamer's mother.
    They tell me you smile happily
    on TV,
    mission "half-accomplished."

    I can no longer observe such pleased mad
    The mending heart breaks
    to break again.


    What is the point
    of being artists
    if we cannot save our life?
    That is the cry
    that wakes us
    in our sleep.
    Being happy is not the only
    And how many gadgets
    can one person manage
    at one time?

    Over in the Other World
    the women count
    their wealth
    in empty
    How to transport
    from watering hole
    to watering
    has ceased to be
    a problem
    since the animals
    and seed grain shrunk
    to fit the pocket.
    it is just a matter
    of who can create
    the finest
    on the empty

    They say in Nicaragua
    the whole
    makes music
    and paints,
    saving their own
    and helping the people save
    their own lives.

    (I ask you to notice
    who, songless,
    rules us

    They say in Nicaragua
    the whole
    and makes
    saving its own
    and helping the people save
    their own lives.
    These are not containers
    void of food.
    These are not decorations
    on empty pots.


Excerpted from Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful by Alice Walker. Copyright © 1984 Alice Walker. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Alice Walker (b. 1944), one of the United States’ preeminent writers, is an award-winning author of novels, stories, essays, and poetry. In 1983, Walker became the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction with her novel The Color Purple, which also won the National Book Award. Her other novels include The Third Life of Grange Copeland, Meridian, The Temple of My Familiar, and Possessing the Secret of Joy. In her public life, Walker has worked to address problems of injustice, inequality, and poverty as an activist, teacher, and public intellectual.

Brief Biography

Mendocino, California
Date of Birth:
February 9, 1944
Place of Birth:
Eatonton, Georgia
B.A., Sarah Lawrence College, 1965; attended Spelman College, 1961-63

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