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Bill Manhire  

All Together Now: A Digital Bridge for Auckland and Sydney             


Phar Lap

Unlikely combinations,

Prayer Wheel and Winkie, Sentiment
and Radium: names that contract and expand
like a big heart pumping

till you get an unlikely starter,
this chestnut colt,
foaled in Timaru, October 4 1926,

by Night Raid out of Entreaty,
with Carbine somewhere
in the background.


The hide is in Melbourne,
the heart in Canberra.
The bones are in Wellington,

the big delicate skeleton
of a horse
who used to mean business.


Can the name
have been planned as a pun?

In English it is one thing.
In Siamese, Lightning.

And they say it means
something in Egyptian.


But he was virtually unbeatable,
the big fellow,
winning race after race in Australia
and never fading,

even after they shot at him,
even after they missed,


even after he died in America
of intestinal tympany,
of theory after theory . . .

They say that for five days he ate
pasture sprayed with lead arsenate,

they say that his Australian strapper
gave him Fowler’s Solution,
incorrectly mixed,

or maybe even the Mafia . . .

Well, let’s say he died in California,
let’s say he died of absence


and that when they stopped talking
they sent him home,
made him articulate
bone by bone


till one day up at the Museum,
it might be fifty years later,

wandering along
past the days of pioneer settlement,

I walk past Cook’s cannon
and a case of muskets

and hear a woman sing
in another language

from the far side of Phar Lap’s ribcage.


Reprinted from Collected Poems (Wellington: Victoria UP, 2001)

©Bill Manhire