She Had Some Horses

by Joy Foster

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What does the speaker mean in lines 12-13 of "New Orleans" when she says, "I know it wasn't just a horse / that went crazy"?

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Joy Harjo's poem "New Orleans" describes the speaker's observations while visiting the city. The speaker reflects on the city's history and the peoples who have contributed to it throughout the centuries. She listens "for remnants of voices" of the Creek Indians, natives of the Mississippi River environs.

The speaker brings up the blue horse early in the poem, describing it as having been brought across the ocean by the Spanish. This journey made the horse "mad" and "crazy." It is implied that the horse is mad because of the Spanish conquistadors' actions toward him. We can then infer that others who interacted with those Spanish, like De Soto, were also driven mad. In that way, the poem is commenting on the negative impacts of colonialism on native peoples.

However, there is also the sense that the native population knows things about the land and the river and the origins of the place—things that may drive those who now occupy the place mad. For example, there is the reference to the man in the shop, which the speaker calls "magic stones." She warns that he must become aware of the true origins of the place before he is destroyed. Also, De Soto himself is possibly driven mad by his misconceptions and lack of awareness. The poem indicates that the natives drowned him "so he wouldn't have to drown himself." This implies that he may have been driven to madness and suicide as a result of his experiences in "The New World."

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