Monthly Archives: April 2012

Read The Media Res here.

charger by m.e.g.


Horse Power

DateMONDAY, APRIL 9, 2012 AT 11:00PM

Our minds received
The revolution of engines, our will
Stretched toward the numb endurance
Of metal.
– Wendell Berry

In his poem “Horse Power,” Wendell B. recalls an age known to us only nostalgically as the agrarian past(oral). He reminds us of now quaint words like equine and tilling, manual labor and crop, words we now associate with an edenic period of American history, when work meant time spent or children fed, not just dollars earned.

With the onset of the steam engine, blood and muscle gave way to fuel and cold steel. Fed ever since by a growing dependence on ‘getting-what-we-want-when-we-want it’ (G.W.W.W.W.W.W.I.), horse power now calibrates the jibe of high-performance muscle-machines (hp).  

…Veiled in that power
Our minds gave up the endless
Cycle of growth and decay
And took the unreturning way,
The breathless distance of iron.

One horse now has the equivalent of 735.5-750 watts, and this aggregate of force finds its equine title in more than just English: in German, Pferdestärke; in Dutch, paardenkracht; in Czech, koňská síla; in Italian, cavalli vapore; in French, chevaux vapeur. The industrial revolution was international, after all.

horse power par(k)ade by m.e.g

The obvious (and Spielberg-enforced) nostalgia still surrounding horses (as labor or war machines) successfully conceals the fact that the use of ‘horsepower’ as a bio-metrological unit actually drives home the irrelevance of horses for humans, an occasion to flaunt man-made force.

For instance, I was informed by Jack Nerad, a writer for Driving Today, that the “Olds 88, with its 135 horsepower V-8, was the first ‘musclecar’.” That was in 1950. In 1955, Chrysler advertised “America’s New Most Powerful Car” with the C-300 (300 hp engine). I wonder how the ASPCA would have felt when the 1968 Plymouth Barracuda 350 hp, family 4-seater, was advertized as “your own compact workhorse.”

In 1970 the “horsepower war” was thought to have peaked, with some models advertising as much as 450 hp (automobiles going from 0 to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds), but the piston/hoof-beat went on.

If you are with me, and think that 450 horses harnessed to a single car is ridiculous (and hilarious to imagine), try 5000 (Such as the5000 hp Ford Focus, using a jet engine). Not enough? On a blog called “American Muscle” you can read about some automobiles with over 7000 Horsepower. These engines are used for drag racing, and thankfully not for driving driving back and forth to the supermarket (one only needs the power of about 300 horses for that).

Aside from my obvious lack of knowledge regarding cars, or my newly sparked interest in hp, there are a few things you must know: my bicycle is my preferred mode of transportation (? hp), I have never used even one horse to help me till my garden, I do not even have a lawn mower (1.5 hp), and it was not until long after making these sculptures and drawings that I watched my first (and last) “fast car” video on YouTube.

But what I do know, is this: the human conversion of non-human agents (like horses) into standards of measurement for human speed (hp) betrays the deep connection between horses and engines – and ourselves.

Is it any wonder that while humans and horses both feed on organic matter, so petrol combustion engines do as well, oil being nothing more than refined organic fossils? Turns out even machines need to eat.

the revolution of engines by m.e.g.

Yet what will we – the riders, the masters, the breeders – do when the feed runs out?

war horse by m.e.g.


When I was a boy here,
traveling the fields for pleasure,
the farms were worked with teams.
As late as then a teamster
Was thought an accomplished man,
His art an essential discipline.
A boy learned it by delight
As he learned to use
His body, following the example
Of men. The reins of a team
Were put into my hands
When I thought the work was play.
And in the corrective gaze
Of men now dead I learned
To flesh my will in power
Great enough to kill me
Should I let it turn.
I learned the other tongue
By which men spoke to beasts-
All its terms and tones.
And by the time I learned,
New ways had changed the time.

horse power par(k)ade detail by m.e.g.

The tractors came. The horses
Stood in the fields, keepsakes,
Grew old, and died. Or were sold
As dogmeat. Our minds received
The revolution of engines, our will
Stretched toward the numb endurance
Of metal. And that old speech
By which we magnified
Our flesh in other flesh
Fell dead in our mouths.
The songs of the world died
In our ears as we went within
The uproar of the long syllable
Of the motors. Our intent entered
The world as combustion.
Like our travels, our workdays
Burned upon the world,
Lifting its inwards up
In fire. Veiled in that power
Our minds gave up the endless
Cycle of growth and decay
And took the unreturning way,
The breathless distance of iron.

But that work, empowered by burning
The world’s body, showed us
Finally the world’s limits
And our own. We had then
The life of a candle, no longer
The ever-returning song
Among the grassblades and the leaves.

horse power par(k)ade detail 2 by m.e.g.

Did I never forget?
Or did I, after years,
Remember? To hear that song
Again, though brokenly
In the distances of memory,
Is coming home. I came to
A farm, some unreachable
By machines, as some of the world
Will always be. And so
I came to a team, a pair
Of mares – sorrels, with white
Tails and manes, beautiful! –
To keep my sloping fields.
Going behind them, the reins
Tight over their backs as they stepped
Their long strides, revived
Again on my tongue the cries
Of dead men in the living
Fields. Now every move
Answers what is still.
This work of love rhymes
Living and dead. A dance
Is what this plodding is.
A song, whatever is said.

-Wendell Berry

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