This essay aims to unearth the queer potentialities of equine eros in the poetry of Chickasaw writer Linda Hogan and Muscogee Creek author Joy Harjo, arguing that these two poets engage with the eroticism of horses as part of their larger decolonial projects of attendance to the nonhuman world. Following Arianne Burford’s argument that “Queer Theory” should work alongside Indigenous studies to cultivate “more nuanced understanding and coalition between queers and Native Americans” (170), I advocate a queer approach, where “queer,” drawing on Mark Rifkin’s work in When Did Indians Become Straight? (2011), means the sense of that which bends or otherwise contorts the straightness mandated by familiar, Western regimes of sexuality—institutions that simultaneously enforce heterosexual and intraspecies comportments of desire. What I add to analyses by Rifkin, Burford, and other critics working at the intersections of queer studies and Indigenous studies is a focus on the queerness of nonhuman eros and sexuality. Part of my agenda, then, is to show how reading Hogan and Harjo’s equine erotopoetics can open a productive membrane of intersection between queer theory, Indigenous studies, and animal studies. Harjo’s (1983) poetry collection She Had Some Horses and Hogan’s 2008 volume Rounding the Human Corners both explore equine eroticism,1 an unmistakably queer eros, from the vantage of traditional Creek (Harjo) and Chickasaw (Hogan) thinking.2 The speaker of Harjo’s poem “She Had Some Horses” imagines eroticized mares replete with “full, brown thighs” and “long, pointed breasts” (Horses  63). In Hogan’s “Affinity: Mustang,” a woman attends to a horse whose foal has died: “Tonight I sit on straw/and watch milk stream from her nipples” (Rounding 66). Such moments of trans-species intimacy are common in the work of two poets who differently explore the decolonial potential of equine eroticism. Hogan and Harjo’s equine erotopoetics enact Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate scholar Kim TallBear’s statement that “Indigenous peoples have never forgotten that nonhumans are agential beings engaged in social relations that profoundly shape human lives” (234),3 resulting in powerfully feminist and queer poetics of decolonial animal love. In this essay, I deploy a broad definition of the terms “eros” and “erotics,” drawing on the Ancient Greek sense of eros as “love.” Far from limited to genital acts, “eros” here reflects a semantic continuum including intimacies, desires, loves, and sex of all types. The erotic, as I use this term, is a force of connection and desire through which we strive to enter, empathize with, and affectively inhabit others, both in sex and the complex of feelings that surrounds the sex–love continuum. Conjuring, giving voice to, or seeking to understand another being through poetry, then, always involves a certain eros—the eros of empathetic reaching, of cultivating shared understanding, of cohabitating the umwelt of another. This is the type of love that I find directed at, refracted through, or riding alongside, the equine body in Hogan and Harjo’s poetics. Both Hogan and Harjo rejuvenate Audre Lorde’s understanding of the erotic as “a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane” (53),4 extending this conceptualization beyond the threshold of species being to create a space for human–nonhuman affinity and intimacy. Their work, furthermore, adds to Lorde’s thinking by queering settler colonial erotic regimes wherein “the familiar status of Native bodies (often those of women) as submissive victims of the colonial erotic” (Justice, Schneider, and Rifkin 1). If, as Creek–Cherokee scholar and novelist Craig Womack argues, “[a]ny tribal poet … is a queer, anomalous creature” (245), and if—as Dana Luciano and Mel Y. Chen suggest with the provocative title of their 2015 essay “Has the Queer Ever Been Human?” (183)—the definitional threshold of the human has never been a place of welcome for queer bodies and minds, what kind of theoretical conduits might emerge from an openness to the queer force of nonhuman eroticism conceived beyond traditional humanist and settler colonial anxieties about bestiality and miscegenation.5 Ultimately, I argue that while Hogan proffers a more straightforward vision of horse-love as an edifying force leading to an ethic of care for the nonhuman world grounded in interspecies eros, Harjo’s sometimes darker horse poetry uses the equine body as poetic image to enact her vision of what I call the equine–erotic–ecstatic. Seeking to encounter the erotic valences of the poeticized equine body with an open mind and heart, this essay reads affinity between humans and horses (Hogan) as well as the equine–erotic–ecstatic (Harjo) as simultaneous forces of decolonial and anti-heteronormative subversion. Straddling Species: A Human–Equine Romance A brief sketch of the erotic role of the horse in human life will help to ground the arguments to follow. Interspecies erotics is, of course, always a queer realm insofar as the mandates of human heteronormative-homospecies sexuality do not apply here. Hence Alice Kuzniar’s claim that “dog love” is “queer beyond queer!” and Kathy Rudy’s argument that “Z” (for “zoophile”) ought to be included along with “LGBTQ” in the acronym rainbow of all things queer (“‘I Married My Dog’” 206; “LGBTQ…Z?” 612). While animal sexuality and interspecies erotics are always queer others to the forces of human hetero/sexual normalization, equine eros has its own particularly queer history. Beginning in the nineteenth century, when “riding astride became respectable for women” (112), a special relationship between women and horses began to emerge. The act of riding itself is, according to Marilyn B. Skinner, “a standard ancient metaphor for sexual intercourse” (51). The equine body, furthermore, offers an often orgasmic platform for what Donna Landry names an “ecstatic transference between woman and horse” (468). Horse and female rider meet in the queer join of collective kinesis, an at-times orgasmic process Elspeth Probyn calls “becoming-horse-becoming-lesbian” (61–62)—horse and human connecting in the transitive membranes of eros and affect.6 In addition to the important role of the horse in the above history of queer girl-horse erotics, another important context for this essay is the complex colonial history of the horse’s reintroduction to the ecosystems and Indigenous peoples of North America. Horses, extinct on this continent for 8,000 years, were reintroduced by Spanish conquistadors in the sixteenth century (Walker 26). Horses were key players in the project of colonization as Spanish, French, British, and finally American settlers roamed and claimed Indigenous lands. Horses were important to the machinery of colonization insofar as they allowed settlers to travel quickly and transport goods in addition to giving the settler a military advantage over non-equestrian cultures. Historian Herman J. Viola writes that soon after their reintroduction to the continent, horses became crucial to the culture and livelihood of many Western nations including the Northwestern Nez Perce and Blackfeet and plains peoples such as the Kiowa, Comanche, Crow, Cheyenne, Arapho, and Sioux (9).7 Horses also entered a complex fabric of story-worlds that had long been rich with animals and trans-species metamorphosis. In a striking Skidi Pawnee story, a woman grows fond of a horse who “assumes human shape and becomes her lover” (Dorsey 294). The woman eventually gives birth to a “spotted pony” and transforms into a human–equine hybrid (Dorsey 294). Such stories are drenched in a queer eros unhampered by normative intraspecies eroticism, demonstrating ways of thinking interspecies erotics beyond violence, panic, and pathology, a conceptual practise Hogan and Harjo take up and elaborate to great effect in their equine erotopoetics. A Poetics of Affinity: Linda Hogan Linda Hogan’s poetry, like her essays, presents a clear-headed ethic of care for the biotic world. At the heart of Hogan’s worldview is “an ecological spirituality in a world both sentient and aware” (“The Call” xiii). This view of the land as animate inflects her poetry in Rounding the Human Corners through a profoundly rendered love for animals. With section titles such as “Unlayering the Human” and “Rounding the Human Corners” and poem titles such as “Gentling the Human,” Hogan’s project is—more obviously than Harjo’s—a posthumanist, unhumanist, or perhaps pre-humanist endeavor. The poems in Rounding the Human Corners are primarily about biophilia, human love for the nonhuman world, and they are tender in their contemplation of animal life: “Oh/he has loved our horses” (88), “when I see it I have to love and hate it/because its body is my cat,/my neighbour’s cat” (79), “oh world I love you” (62). These poems also cast a dubious eye on the human; in Janet McAdams’ words, the collection “argues for the shedding of the many layers that stand . . . between the human and all from which we have estranged ourselves” (226). Hogan challenges Western taxonomies of life with a poesis of nonhuman-oriented eros, humbling the human by situating the species as just one strand in the complex web of being. Hogan’s practise as a writer has always been grounded in a traditional Chickasaw perspective. Recently, Hogan has labored on behalf of the Chickasaw nation as an editor for the Journal of Chickasaw History and a contributor for the educational volume Chickasaw: Unconquered and Unconquerable (Chickasaw Press, 2006). As Norma C. Wilson notes, the Chickasaw element is most clearly present in Hogan’s 1978 collection, Calling Myself Home, which explicitly ruminates on questions of homeland and displacement and prominently features the turtle shells that rattled on women’s legs during traditional Chickasaw ceremony (76). The Chickasaw are a southeastern nation who were forcibly removed from their homelands during the Andrew Jackson administration. As historian Richard Green explains, they were “among the last of the Southeastern tribes to travel the Trail of Tears to Indian territory, emigrating in both large and small groups by steamship and overland between 1837 and 1850” (4). The traces of this dislocation are present throughout Hogan’s oeuvre, which explores themes of travel, migration, transformation, and the search for a spiritual homeland amidst what Patrick Wolfe calls the ongoing “land-centered project” of settler colonialism that dispossesses Indigenous people of their rightful territory (393). Hogan’s search for home and spiritual sustenance plays out in her poetry through love—of land, of a world “made by songs, by dreams” (Human 67), and of nonhuman animal bodies. Rounding the Human Corners shows Hogan’s career-long biophilia channelled through the bodies and feelings of animals such as deer, foxes, wasps, whales, earthworms, slugs, spiders, and, most prominently, the horse.8 One of the most powerful considerations of equine being comes in the poem “Affinity: Mustang.” The mustang is a breed inextricably intertwined with Indigenous versatility and revitalization, a breed that has been slaughtered and demonized by stockowners, sportsmen, and profiteers, and a breed which has been morphed into the namesake of a flagship muscle car for the American automotive company Ford Motors:9 When we walk together in the tall grasses I feel her as if I am walking with mystery, with beauty and fierce powers, as if for a while we are the same animal and remember each other from before. (Human 65) Hogan uses an understated, serene poetic voice to seek to engage the horse, to inhabit the equine body as “the same animal.” The poet deploys simple adjectives like “tall” and lines that end on natural pauses and begin with prepositions (“in,” “as,” “as,” “and”) to invite the reader into a new phrase. The phrasing and diction is deft but simple—Hogan’s poetics do not use thesaurus words or poetic techniques that would unsettle the reader or demand the interruption of a Google search. The overall effect is one of simplicity and calm, a plainspoken poetics that invites the reader to experience the poem in the cadences of natural speech, to walk calmly alongside the poet as she walks astride the horse. This plainspoken approach—where an unobtrusive poetic form serves to emphasize content—characterizes the formal approach to Hogan’s project of trans-species affinity. “Affinity” is a key word for Hogan—the title of the final section in the collection and an appropriate term for the kind of interspecies empathetic connection Hogan cultivates in her poetics. According to the OED, the word “affinity” derives from the Latin word for marriage (“affinity,” def. 1a), a relationship that—much like the management of human livestock (or “husbandry”)—simultaneously encompasses love and property/economics. But marriage and the idea of animals as property are both Eurocentric concepts that do not adequately embody Hogan’s notion of affinity. Hogan’s concept of affinity can be thought of rather as a kind of species sisterhood, a notion Hogan encourages when she writes of a horse-like poem that “calls out for its sister” and “is wild with its herd” (Corners 59). Hogan’s poetic treatment of the horse offers a clear departure from thinkers such as Jacques Derrida, who famously records his own humiliation—a “shame ashamed of itself” (4)—as he stands naked before his cat. There is no shame in Hogan’s contemplation of the horse as the “beloved partner of a woman” (Human 59). In contrast to Derrida’s emotionally fraught engagement with the feline body, Hogan offers an engagement more akin to Donna Haraway’s notion of “companion species” joined by the “nasty developmental inflection called love” (16). Like Haraway, Hogan explores the queer love of a nonhuman animal in an attempt to challenge the norms of a society committed to the pretense of human exceptionalism. Hogan’s poetics of multispecies affinity also seeks to fuse equine experience and human consciousness in the space of the poem. The author signals her interest in collapsing the boundary between horse and verse in the metapoetic reflection that opens “Wild,” a poem that once again contemplates mustangs: “This is not the horse. It is the poem” (Corners 59). By explicitly stating that the poem is not the horse, Hogan encourages the reader to intuit the opposite. The horse and the poem nestle closely, here, paired by the caesura that joins as much as separates them. “Wild” goes on to describe the poem as horse-like, fully undermining its opening assertion: it walks across the land loving tall grasses and alfalfa and is wild with its herd speaking in ways the human mind can’t hear. (59) Language and form remain simple here; Hogan again uses the adjective “tall” to describe the noun “grasses” and keeps the lines rolling in the uninterrupted syntax of a single sentence. Significantly, the erotic here provides the central node through which the reader can encounter the equine perspective—Hogan invites the reader to inhabit the horse’s experience of vegetal love, to roam as horse and poem through a differently energized, horsy appreciation of the animate landscape. Of the poems in Rounding The Human Corners, “Affinity: Mustang,” offers the most resonant and visceral exploration of human–equine intimacy. The poem presents a series of dream-like walks where the speaker and the mustang amble side by side—moving as lateral companions rather than traveling in the hierarchical horse–rider relation. Toward the end, the poem takes a turn into an especially evocative female–female interspecies intimacy: Last night it was her infant that died after the kinship and movement of so many months. Tonight I sit on straw and watch milk stream from her nipples to the ground. I clean her face. I’ve come such a long way through time to find her and it is the first time I have ever seen a horse cry. (Corners 66) Hogan here extends her figuration of human–equine sisterhood through the languages of the reproductive body and body fluids such as milk and tears. This visual emphasis on the equine tear, alongside the focalizing presence of the human witness, creates a sense of resonant interspecies intimacy. This movement culminates when the speaker cleans the horse’s face, an act of grooming and bodily proximity rich with a sense of interspecies empathy and care. Norma C. Wilson notes that the “mother-child, particularly the mother-daughter relationship is central to Hogan’s poetry” (79).10 Motherhood for Hogan is a metaphorical concept that can travel beyond the human, linking females of different species through the embodied bond of the maternal journey. The horse of “Affinity: Mustang” reads as an “ancient mother” (Corners 41), an emissary of “the earth/the way it used to be” (Corners 64). The speaker tends to the grieving horse, cleansing her face of emotional fluids in a shared space of female–female intimacy and solidarity. The horse and the human thus come together to participate in what Adrienne Rich calls “survival relationships” (652), common between women in oppressive patriarchal societies. Such an intimate interspecies connection offers an instructive ethic for species/gender relations in a world where to be “human” means to claim human status and where such status is habitually claimed by white, hetero males. “Affinity: Mustang” crystalizes the female interspecies maternal eros that runs throughout Hogan’s collection and her thinking more generally, but the horses of “Wild” and “Affinity: Mustang” are not simply horses; they are mustangs, and the complex history of the breed clearly poises in the background of these poems. Elsewhere in the collection, Hogan references the “mustang’s changed history” (59), suggesting that the historical context of this particular breed—brought to the Americas by Spanish conquistadors, they broke free and thrived for centuries as wild horses on the Great Plains before being demonized and slaughtered en masse—self-consciously textures Hogan’s horse poems.11 It is crucial that in Rounding the Human Corners the poet’s main equine companion is the mustang, a breed that arrived on these lands as an emissary of Spanish colonial conquest but then escaped to roam the plains and love “tall grasses.” The breed’s very existence queers the mandates of settler colonial domesticity, and Harjo’s exploration of female–female interspecies love offers a window of the erotic that persists within and against the rubrics of settler heteropatriarchy. Ultimately, Rounding the Human Corners uses the erotic connective tissue where human poet meets horse to emphasize the primacy of female experience and affective connection over species identity, replacing prescribed Western circuits of love and desire (heterosexual, intraspecies) with the more queer-conducive concept of affinity. The Poem, Galloping: Joy Harjo Joy Harjo’s (1983) poetry collection She Had Some Horses helped to establish Harjo as a central figure in American poetry.12 Harjo is, in Womack’s words, “[o]ne of the strongest voices in contemporary poetry” (223). Harjo is also a crucial figure in the critical and literary re-discovery of the Indigenous power of the erotic.13 In his essay “Your Skin is the Map: The Theoretical Challenge of Joy Harjo’s Erotic Poetics” (2008), Robert Warrior (Osage) argues that Harjo’s work sheds light on the debilitating lack of attention to eroticism in most Indigenous scholarly discourse.14 While there has been significant critical attention paid to the role of the erotic in Harjo’s poetry, relatively little of it deals at length with the prominent theme of horses. Here I argue that Harjo’s horses are crucially connected to her erotic vision and that the horse, particularly in the collection She Had Some Horses, often mobilizes her vision of love; the horse is also, to borrow Andrew Wiget’s phrase, a crucial conduit through which Harjo’s speakers aim to “recover an ecstatic union” (192). In She Had Some Horses, Harjo’s larger vision of the erotic works through the poeticized bodies of horses to enact what I call the equine–erotic–ecstatic. It is crucial, here, that the ecstatic always contains a darkness; it is a condition of “frenzy” deriving from “astonishment, fear, or passion” (“ecstasy,” def. 1a)—the rapture of torment as well as the gallop of joy. As Womack notes, everything in Harjo’s poetics strives after balance, a key condition of Creek cosmology in its negotiations of the “Upper World,” the “Lower World,” and “This World” (239). Hence Harjo’s vision of the equine–erotic–ecstatic is at times dark and at times jubilant; but it is always transformative, always rapturous, always galloping through the restless swirl and dash of eros. The main focus of my analysis is the widely taught and anthologized title poem of She Had Some Horses. Here Harjo crafts a Muscogee-centered vision of the complex intertwined histories of horses and humans: She had some horses. She had horses who were bodies of sand. She had horses who were maps drawn of blood. She had horses who were skins of ocean water. She had horses who were the blue air of sky. She had horses who were fur and teeth. She had horses who were clay and would break. She had horses who were splintered red cliff. (Horses  63) Harjo’s vision is at times macabre, with “horses who licked razor blades” and “threw rocks at glass houses” (61). But Harjo’s horses are also radically new and different in each line—they are a shattering explosion of referents, yoked through the harness of the poetic refrain. Repetition, one of Harjo’s characteristic techniques, works here as elsewhere in her poetry to engage with Creek traditional storytelling through her use of what critic Laura Coltelli calls “the tonal effects of ritual chanting” (“Joy Harjo’s Poetry” 289).15 The refrain—“She had some horses”—creates what Harjo, in an interview with Sharyn Stever, calls “a sense of ceremony” (Spiral 84).16 Repetition also serves to aurally enact the equine–erotic–ecstatic at the level of the line. The refrain centers around the governing trochee, “horses,” making the stressed syllable “horse” the sonic heart of each line. The lines then spill outwards, into a gallop of trochaic phrases ending in iambic inversions: “bodies of sound,” “maps drawn of blood,” “splintered red cliffs.” Each of these line endings closes with a spondee followed by an iamb, creating the sound pattern thump thump-a-thump. While the lineation varies, the establishment of this sonic pattern frames the rhythmic expectation of the poem, where trochee spills into iamb and grounds the aural experience of poem, galloping. The gallop of the horse-poem turns toward equine eros in the poem’s fourth stanza: “She had horses with long, pointed breasts./She had horses with full brown thighs” (Horses , 63). The prominent bosoms and thighs of the horses can be read as a humanization of the equine body, an equinization of the human body, or (my preferred reading) an unsettling synthesis of human and equine bodies—a species-transgressive vision of human and horse collapsing in the poem’s ecstatic event. But they also suggest a particularly female node of connection, gesturing to the kind of trans-species female solidarity Hogan explores.17 Given that traditional Creek culture was matrilineal and that “gender violence is a primary tool of colonialism and white supremacy” (Womack 42; Smith 61), the cultivation of feminine power in Harjo’s work cannot be overstated. But femaleness, for Harjo, is never stable: “I firmly believe we are all varying degrees of male-female” (Spiral 81). Harjo’s poetics, which seeks to connect the spiritual world to the lived world of daily life,18 always resists stable boundaries such as species and gender classifications. As Womack notes, the “Muskogean world” of Harjo’s poetry “lets queerness in rather than driving it out” (245). Part of this queerness, certainly, is a transgression of species being, with the human and equine body flickering back and forth in an erotics at times traumatic and at times joyful but always ecstatic, always transgressing familiar Western boundaries of embodiment. In addition to offering a species-blurring vision of female embodiment, the horse also serves in Harjo’s poetics as a more seemingly familiar conduit for human eroticism. Take, for example, the poem “Two Horses”: My heart is taken by you and these morning since I am a horse running towards a cracked sky where there are countless dawns breaking simultaneously. (Horses 64) Here the horse is, at the most basic level, a symbol of human desire, a metaphor for the wildness of sexual passion. This is, of course, a common way to deploy animals in literature—as avatars for unbridled “animal” sexuality. But the horse, here, is also, crucially, a force of fracture; the horse-as-eros charges toward a shattered sky, itself multiplying into myriad shattering dawns. If the poem figures the horse as a symbol of human eroticism, it also invites the reader to ask—what is a horse? The answer is, of course, that the horse is not stably embodied; it is the flicker and charge of motion, the gallop of the equine-ecstatic-erotic, a force that fractures Western claims to autonomy such as species and self. Equine erotics, in Harjo’s work, sometimes carries a dark undercurrent. Toward the conclusion of the original 1983 edition of “She Had Some Horses,” the speaker relates an experience of equine–human sexual assault: “She had horses who tried to save her, who climbed in her/bed at night and prayed as they raped her” (Horses  64). The combination of rape and prayer in this scene of sexual violence perpetrated in the name of salvation yields a pained recollection of residential school trauma, casting a dark pall over the poem as a whole. Intriguingly, Harjo chooses to omit this moment of graphic equine sexual assault from the subsequent editions of the poem. In both the 2002 volume How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems 1975-2001 and the 2008 Norton reissue of She Had Some Horses, Harjo excavates the line “[s]he had horses with long, pointed breasts” and replaces it with the much less erotic phrase, “She had some horses with eyes of trains” (Horses  63; Horses  61). This change shifts gears, turning away from interspecies sexual trauma and toward an analytic of railroad Manifest Destiny. Here, Harjo’s poem opens into another history: after the US Civil War the government punished Indigenous nations, like the Creek and Chickasaw people, who, for complex reasons, had fought with the Confederates, by running railroads through their lands (Green 5).19 The revised poem, then, also indicates the historical shift from early equine-assisted colonialism to mechanized developments that would replace horses with steam engines and technologized units of “horsepower.” In the modern era, horses are for the most part antiquated as technology, rendering their connection to the human species primarily esthetic, athletic, and affective—conveyances of pleasure and love, not war and domination. In the later versions, Harjo also truncates the macabre interspecies sexuality of the lines “She had horses who [… ] climbed in her/bed at night and prayed as they raped her” to “She had horses [… ] who climbed in her/bed at night and prayed” (Horses  64; Horses  62). Why would Harjo choose to remove the most explicit moments of equine eroticism from her poem? The extant scholarship on Harjo has not addressed this question, nor has Harjo spoken about the omissions in interviews or written comments. The removal of the unsettling equine breasts and the explicit language of sexual assault suggests that Harjo may have found her early version too heavy-handed; the author may have been searching for the subtler evocation of equine eroticism found in the later version of the poem. What I would like to emphasize, though, is the way Harjo’s pursuit of the equine–erotic–ecstatic culminates in the horse poems following the title poem in She Had Some Horses. In the section “She Had Some Horses,” the titular poem is followed by “Two Horses,” “Drowning Horses,” “Ice Horses,” and “Explosion,” marking a general movement toward the equine–erotic–ecstatic that culminates in the final poem of the series. (Each poem in this section is also given a Roman numeral, suggesting that the section should be read as a unit.)20 The last poem in this section, “Explosion,” offers the apotheosis of the equine–erotic–ecstatic. This poem imagines the explosion of a highway “near Okemah, Oklahoma” (67), a small community, home to the federally recognized Muscogee Creek Thlopthlocco Tribal Town, about 70 miles from Harjo’s hometown of Tulsa. In the poem, Harjo imagines a “new people” emerging “from the center of the earth” (Horses 67), where the Creek origin story begins. The new people are “another color” yet bear an affiliation to the Creek people: they “live in Muskogee on the side of the tracks/that Indians live on. (And they will be the/ones to save us)” (67). The poem also depicts a scene of striking equine messianism: “But maybe the explosion was horses,/bursting out of the crazy earth/near Okemah. They were a violent birth” (Horses 67). Horses, here, are explosive and redemptive, suggesting the possibility of transformation and renewal. The explosion of the highway, of course, opens a seam through an already transitional space, a borderland. This blast also suggests the destruction of the settler state, a move characteristic for Harjo, whose poetic vision often dramatizes “life without colonialism” (Womack 230). Harjo’s exploration of the equine–erotic–ecstatic ends with a vision of kinetic plenitude: “some will see the horses with their hearts of sleeping volcanoes/and will be rocked awake/past their bodies” (Horses 68). Among the other fictions these horses collapse (the sanctity of the settler colonial state) is the fiction of permanent, stable embodiment. Those who can see the horses—and only some can—will see “past” their own corporeal existence. This transcendence of embodiment serves to subvert rigid identities such as species and gender, the entrapments of European thinking. The idea of being “rocked awake” suggests a coming-into-new-knowledge with the gentleness of a lullaby. Simultaneously, though, the image of the “sleeping volcano” implies a massive violence, a potential punishment, an enormous geological change that may provide the possibility of regrowth and renewal. Harjo’s horses are various—at times dark and threatening, at times viscerally erotic, at times cosmic. Crucially, though, they are never stable, never rigidly embodied; they are always corporeally queer, subverting the bounds of normative species being, crossing over into human bodies and flickering back to charge “into fire,” to soar the “countless dawns” of the “cracked sky.” It is only taken as a whole that a genuine vision of Harjo’s equine–erotic–ecstatic begins to emerge, and I can only hope that this short glimpse into Harjo’s work has provided a passable shorthand for her vision of horses transforming, horses always in motion, horses exploding and giving birth and licking razor blades but most importantly galloping. Linda Hogan and Joy Harjo mobilize different, though complementary, versions of equine subversion of settler colonialism: the cultivation of a loving, interspecies affinity (Hogan) and the equine–erotic–ecstatic (Harjo). For both poets, equine eros serves as a powerful force of decolonial subversion, announcing the possibility of a revolution of love. Robert Warrior writes that “[t]he presence of the erotic in Harjo’s texts is a challenge, a confrontation” (341), calling readers to recognize the primacy of embodiment and the power of the erotic as a “force for human liberation” (340, 342). For both Hogan and Harjo, the erotic also opens a node of connection to the nonhuman. In an era of mass extinction and extraction, when the current US President has habitually and belligerently denied the rapid acceleration of anthropogenic climate change and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has moved the Doomsday Clock from three to two and a half minutes to midnight, there has never been a more crucial time to cultivate love for the nonhuman world. The horse can be a symbol of resistance but it can also be a symbol of shared pain, of tenderness, of grief. Unlike a car or an airplane, a horse feels back, loves back. Reading the poetics of equine eros through the lens of settler colonialism opens a seam into an erotic and affective world that persists beyond and in spite of settler logics of white human supremacy, rigid species taxonomies, and Western regimes of linear progress. Linda Hogan and Joy Harjo sing alongside the horse, a creature as gentle as it is strong, crafting, in their equine erotopoetics, a space for ecstatic and transformative interspecies love. Footnotes 1 Harjo’s 2008 volume of selected poems, How We Became Human, may have been titled as a response to N. Katherine Hayles’ groundbreaking work How We Became Posthuman (1999). 2 Significantly, neither author comes from what Cherokee novelist and critic Thomas King calls a “horse culture” (70); both Muscogee (Creek) and Chickasaw are Southeastern woodland peoples. 3 TallBear is, of course, speaking here on behalf of a widespread belief and ethic held throughout many discreet Indigenous cultures and commonly voiced in Indigenous literature and criticism. For example, in his 2006 book Our Fire Survives the Storm, Indigenous studies scholar Daniel Heath Justice (Cherokee) describes Cherokee poet Marilou Awiakta’s advocation of an “ecosystemic understanding that rejects human supremacism” (165). Likewise, Cree scholar Alex Wilson writes that the Idle No More Movement reinvigorates the “very old” traditional knowledge “that we, the land, the water, and all living creatures, are related and, as relatives, we are meant to love and care for each other” (256). Wilson’s final turn to an ethic of care and love for the nonhuman world certainly frames and foregrounds my own discussion of the poetics of Hogan and Harjo. 4 Harjo herself lists Lorde as one of her crucial feminist influences (Spiral 31). 5 Fierce anxieties surrounding nonhuman eros, part of an affective nexus I elsewhere call “species panic” (Huebert 244), can be traced throughout settler colonial history from the New England Bestiality Trials (see Colleen Glenney Boggs’ Animalia Americana [Columbia University Press, 2013], chapter 1) to the modern scandal surrounding a zoophilia ring in Enumclaw, Washington (see Dominic Pettman, Human Error [Minnesota University Press, 2011], 77-84) and the common claim in gay marriage debates that same-sex marriage will naturally lead to humans marrying animals. 6 This a truncated sketch of a larger history of queer girl-horse love and intimacy, outlined in more detail by Susan McHugh in the third chapter of her book Animal Stories (Minnesota 2011). 7 As historian Peter Mitchell demonstrates in his book Horse Nations: The Worldwide Impact of the Horse on Indigenous Societies Post-1492 (Oxford University Press, 2015), horses were crucial to the success and resilience of many Indigenous nations in the centuries following European contact. For example, horses helped the Comanche people to gain a “hegemony over the Southern Plains […] from the 1770s into the 1840s” (Mitchell 121). 8 Poems such as “Moving the Woodpile” show that Hogan is not only concerned with charismatic animals such as horses but also oft-pathologized species such as wasps. 9 The proliferation of vehicles named after animals—Dodge Ram, Volkswagen Rabbit, Chevrolet Impala—provide a striking instance of Pettman’s “humanimalchine” and the broader commodification of animal attributes (6). Names such as “Jeep Grand Cherokee” show the American cultural impulse to fetishize Indigenous life in the same semantic realm as commodified animals. Significantly, the Ford Motor Company’s “Mustang Division” has helped to fund the plight of mustangs in America (Ryden 11). 10 Wilson also points out that in an earlier poem, “Celebration: Birth of a Colt,” Hogan extends this exploration of motherhood to the equine realm (79). 11 For a rigorous and inspirational account of the mustang, see Hope Ryden’s book America’s Last Wild Horses (originally published 1970). 12 In critic Laura Coltelli’s words, Harjo is “one of the more powerful voices among the second generation of the so-called Native American Renaissance” (“Introduction” 1). In 2015, Harjo received the $100,000 Wallace Stevens Award for Poetry from the Academy of American Poets, a lifetime achievement award that confirms her place among the most prominent contemporary American poets. 13 For an instructive overview of the move towards eros in Indigenous scholarship, see the introduction to Lisa Tatonetti’s The Queerness of Native American Literature (University of Minnesota Press, 2014). 14 A critical consensus supports Warrior’s claim that eros was long occluded from scholarship on Indigenous literature. As Lisa Tatonetti notes, “analyses of Indigenous texts precluded considerations of sexuality until the late 1990s” (xxi). Deborah A. Miranda’s 2002 essay “Dildos, Hummingbirds, and Driving Her Crazy: Searching for American Indian Women’s Love Poetry and Erotics” was an initial important early step in revealing the “systematic exclusion” of Indigenous women’s poetry from the academy (136). 15 This technique is used also to great effect in poems such as “I Give You Back,” with its repetitions of the line “I release you” and the refrain “I am not afraid” (Horses  73). 16 Transformation—a theme with a clear connection to eros—is key to Harjo’s writing generally. Harjo’s thematic of transformation is evident in many poems, including “Transformations,” “Promise of Blue Horses,” and “The Woman Who Fell From the Sky,” among many others. Womack points to the “specifically Creek concerns” of Harjo’s interest in transformation stories (230), citing traditional stories where people enter animal worlds, leaving their “human existence” a “vague blur” (230). Harjo herself also states that transformation is key to her work (Spiral 43). 17 Harjo’s horses, notably, are also voices of female anger: “She had horses who spit at male queens who made / them afraid of themselves” (Horses 62). 18 “what I’m trying to do is make the spiritual realm more manifest, obvious” (Spiral 79). 19 The railroad thematic is already present in the poem, in the earlier line “She had horses with eyes of trains” (Horses 61). 20 Harjo’s equine-erotic-ecstatic recalls and draws on the imagistic power of American feminist poet Sylvia Plath’s “Ariel,” where a woman and a horse soar “Into the red // Eye, the cauldron of morning” (29). In “Ice Horses,” Harjo similarly depicts an “ice horse / galloping / into fire” (66). Harjo’s poetry builds on Plath’s important feminist work by adding layers of decolonial critique and further collapsing the boundaries of species being: the “you” of Harjo’s poem, connected to horses through bonds of love and reproductive embodiment, ultimately joins with horses, becomes “a part of them.” Works Cited “affinity, n.” The Oxford English Dictionary. OED Online. www.oed.com/view/Entry/3417 Burford Arianne. “‘Her Mouth is Medicine’: Beth Brant and Paula Gunn Allen’s Decolonizing Queer Erotics.” Journal of Lesbian Studies 17 , no. 2 ( 2013) : 167 – 79 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed Coltelli Laura. “Introduction: The Transforming Power of Joy Harjo’s Poetry.” The Spiral of Memory: Interviews . Ed. Coltelli Laura . The U of Michigan P , 1999 . 1 – 13 . Coltelli Laura. . “Joy Harjo’s Poetry.” The Cambridge Companion to Native American Literature . Ed. Porter Joy , Roemer Kenneth M. . Cambridge UP , 2005 . 283 – 95 . 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ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 12, 2018
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