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About the Horse Crippler by John Poch

Photo by Natalie Rhea Riggs
February 26, 2019

About the Horse Crippler by John Poch

John Poch authored Horse Crippler (Echinocactus texensis) which appeared in North American Review, Volume 303.4. John gives us a background on this unusual plant which served as inspiration for his poem in today's blog post.


The Horse Crippler is a plant not many people experience. That’s mostly a good thing. Its awful 1-2 inch sturdy spines look like tiny alien/dinosaur horns.

I’m not sure if it could literally cripple a horse, but nobody would want to step on this thing. You rarely see them, as the plant itself only growsHorse Crippler a few inches off the ground. When it blooms in early spring, it produces uniquely beautiful, pink flowers that only last a day or two. Its fragrance and/or nectar, I have noticed, attracts a specific kind of small bee. I’m not sure what it is. There are limits to my curiosity. And then if that flower gets pollinated, it turns into a gorgeous bright dark-pink ping-pong ball fruit a coyote might eat. I enjoyed writing that almost as much as I enjoy the sound of the words “horse crippler”. When I was in college, studying nuclear engineering, I knew I should study poetry when I realized I liked the sound of the phrase “lumped burnable poisons”. When I meditate upon the Horse Crippler’s beauty, I think how for years I felt Texas was crippling me, but I learned over time to love its harsh beauty unlike anything you will find in the world. This plant’s Latin name is fittingly Echinocactus Texensis.

A few years ago, I dug one up from down in Junction, Texas (no one would miss it), where I was teaching, and brought it back to Lubbock where I put it in a pot. In the winter, I didn’t want to bring it inside, so I buried it in the ground up to its spines. One day in spring, I suppose when it was in blossom, someone came down my alley in a car, got out, and stole it. Dug it right out of the ground, pot and all. I figure this person has brought some kind of special curse upon himself.

John Poch

John Poch’s work appears widely in journals like Image, Juked, Birmingham Poetry Review, and Poetry. His fifth collection of poems, Texases, will be published by WordFarm Press in early 2019.

John Poch contribtued to the North American Review, Volume 303.4.

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