It’s another sorry tale about class in America, I’m sure you’re right, but you have to imagine how proud we were. Your grandfather painted a banner that hung from Wascher’s Pub to Dianis’s Grocery across the street: Reigh Count, Kentucky Derby Winner, 1928. And washtubs filled with French champagne. I was far too young to be up at the stables myself, of course, it took me years to understand they must have meant in bottles in the washtubs, with ice. His racing colors were yellow and black, like the yellow cabs, which is how Mr. Hertz first made the money that built the barns that bred the horses, bred at last this perfect horse, our hundred and thirty seconds of flat out earth- borne bliss. They bought the Arlington Racetrack then and Jens got a job that for once in his life allowed him to pay the mortgage and the doctors too, but he talked the loose way even good men talk sometimes and old man Hertz was obliged to let him go. It was August when the cab strike in Chicago got so ugly. Somebody must have tipped them off, since we learned later on that the Count and the trainer who slept in his stall had been moved to another barn. I’ll never forget the morning after: ash in the air all the way to town and the smell of those poor animals, who’d never harmed a soul. There’s a nursery rhyme that goes like that, isn’t there? Never did us any harm. I think it’s about tormenting a cat.
From Prodigal: New and Selected Poems, 1976 to 2014 (Mariner Books, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Linda Gregerson. Used with permission of the author.
Our heart wanders lost in the dark woods. Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt. But there’s music in us. Hope is pushed down but the angel flies up again taking us with her. The summer mornings begin inch by inch while we sleep, and walk with us later as long-legged beauty through the dirty streets. It is no surprise that danger and suffering surround us. What astonishes is the singing. We know the horses are there in the dark meadow because we can smell them, can hear them breathing. Our spirit persists like a man struggling through the frozen valley who suddenly smells flowers and realizes the snow is melting out of sight on top of the mountain, knows that spring has begun.
From Collected Poems by Jack Gilbert. Copyright © 2012 by Jack Gilbert. Reprinted with permission of Alfred A. Knopf. All rights reserved.
Because when I saw a horse
cross a river
and named it Ghost Rubble
it said No my name is 1935
because it also spoke in tongues
as it crossed the black tongue
of the water
because it still arcs through me
with its zodiac
of shrapnel-bright stars
because the river’s teeth
against its flank
and its eyes
still have the luster
of black china
in the glass hutch of memory
because a horse’s skull
is a ditch of wildflowers
because a horse’s skull
is a box of numbers
a slop bucket
resting upside down
under barn eaves
wind in an empty stockyard
orange clay that breaks
shovel handles with a shrug
because a horse is the underwriter
of all motion
because a horse is the first
and last item
on every list
of every season
and because that night the air
smelled green as copper
and lath dust
and that night as it scrambled
up the bank and stamped past me
it said Unlike you
I am the source of all echoes.
Copyright © 2015 by Michael McGriff. Used with permission of the author.
A fluctuating charm,
An amber-colored amethyst
Inhabits it; your arm
It opens and
You have meant
To catch it,
And it shrivels;
It opens, and it
Closes and you
Reach for it—
Grows cloudy, and
It floats away
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 30, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Their holiness, their loneliness, the song
they sing in certain barns
on sad, old farms
about the scales on which the love
was weighed, or the terrible
armchair onto which was tossed
a small girl’s nightgown once. The
widower’s broken ankle, and the summer
a transparent fish was caught
in the pond. Invisible if not
for its heart. Its lungs. The throbbing
jelly of its subconscious:
No one would fry it for supper.
Like Dora, Little Hans, the Rat Man.
When Freud told them their own secrets
surely they must have asked, “But,
Herr Doctor, how do you know?”
And these owls in the rafters urging
me all winter now to Go,
go, and throw
your mother’s bones behind you as you go.
From Where Now. Copyright © 2017 by Laura Kasischke. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyon.org.
Without external reference, The world presents itself In perfect clarity. Wherewithal, arrested moments, The throes of demystification, Morality as nothing more Than humility and honesty, a salty measure. Then it was a cold snap, Weather turned lethal so it was easier To feel affinity With lodgepole stands, rifted aspens, And grim, tenacious sage. History accelerates till it misses the turns. Wars are shorter now Just to fit into it. One day you know you are no longer young Because you've stopped loving your own desperation. You change life to loneliness in your mind And, you know, you need to change it back. Statistics show that One in every five Women Is essential to my survival. My daughter asks how wide is lightning. That depends, but I don't know on what. Probably the dimension of inner hugeness, As in a speck of dirt. It was an honor to suffer humiliation and refusal. Shame was an honor. It was an honor to freeze your ass horseback In the year's first blizzard, Looking for strays that never materialized. It was an honor to break apart against this, An honor to fail at well-being As the high peaks accepted the first snow - A sigh of relief. Time stands still And we things go whizzing past it, Queasy and lonely, Wearing dogtags with scripture on them.
From Resurrection Update: Collected Poems 1975-1997, published by Copper Canyon Press, 1997. (Originally published in Lethal Frequencies, 1995.) Copyright © 1997 by James Galvin. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Ho, wind of March, speed over sea,
From mountains where the snows lie deep
The cruel glaciers threatening creep,
And witness this, my jubilee!
Roar from the surf of boreal isles,
Roar from the hidden, jagged steeps,
Where the destroyer never sleeps;
Ring through the iceberg’s Gothic piles!
Voyage through space with your wild train,
Harping its shrillest, searching tone,
Or wailing deep its ancient moan,
And learn how impotent your reign.
Then hover by this garden bed,
With all your willful power, behold,
Just breaking from the leafy mould,
My little primrose lift its head!
This poem appeared in Poems (Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1895). It is in the public domain.