The Last Horse
Plague.published in Ottawa by above/ground press
By the time scientists pulled all the global data together, publishing a breathless set of papers in Nature that then crept into the mainstream media, nearly eighty percent of the world’s horse population was infected.
Footage: a camera man walks through a barn, hay bales and farming equipment, and people in all-white decontamination suits look into the different stalls; each horse that comes into frame is listless, their manes flaccid and paling, their nostrils filled and noisy with heavy breath, the lustre of their coats lost to the ribs showing through. A suited person runs their hand down the long neck of one, the horse’s head turning towards the affection despite its obvious weakness, patting it while explaining to the audience that the animal has only a day more to live, that whatever had infected it had also sterilized it. That any horse found to be infected had roughly one week, a death sentence that no one could identify the cause of, let alone a cure.
Cattlemen gathered and drew the obvious parallels to hoof-and-mouth disease and recalled stories, their own or the generations before’s, of having to quarantine then slaughter cows, healthy or not, who had come into contact with those infected. A coffee steams in a man’s hand, a diner with three others around the table, and he describes his father, rifle in hand, walking towards the field at the far end of their pastureland, the swish of bright green grass through his cowboy boots, grass that was perfect for grazing but now to left grow ankle-, knee-length, wild and weeds. The man’s father and his neighbours had cornered the cattle along one stretch of fence, where they clustered and bawled and tried to move forward, met each time they advanced with a rifle shot into the air to frighten them back. Seated on a tractor fixed with a giant earth-moving scoop at the front, the man watched the men march with their guns dutifully on their shoulders, to the herd, and, after a brief countdown, killed every single animal. The man helped his father and the others dig the grave, a deep long ditch that the cattle were rolled into, one after another, one on top of another, a heaping mass, steaming with fresh blood, hides, eyes, teeth, hooves, cattlebrands, then the dirt over top, afterwards packed tightly by the tromp of boots. The sun came over the mountains the next day, lighting the valley floor. “We never entered that field again. We left it and eventually God took it back and you couldn’t see the fenceposts, and it was like nothing had happened, that no life had ever been there. I dream about it, you know, often, when I come to remember my dreams in the morning.”
as the twenty-second title in above/ground’s prose/naut imprint
as part of above/ground press’ thirtieth anniversary
a/g subscribers receive a complimentary copy
Aaron Tucker is the author of two novels, three books of poetry and two film studies monographs. His latest novel, Soldiers, Hunters, Not Cowboys (Coach House Books) was named one of the best books of 2023 so far by The Toronto Star. His doctoral dissertation “The Flexible Face: Uniting the Protocols of Facial Recognition Technologies” (March 2023), and was nominated for the York University Dissertation Prize; his graduate work at York’s Cinema and Media Arts department won the Governor General's Gold Medal. In addition, he is currently a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto where he is recreating the history of AI in Canada as a technonational project. He grew up on the Sylix Territory in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, and currently lives and works in Tkaronto on the lands covered by the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Covenant.
This is Aaron Tucker’s fourth chapbook with above/ground press, following apartments (2010), punchlines (2013) and Catalogue d’Oiseaux: Toronto — Mainz-Kastel (2018).
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