Jack

- 1925-2014
How pleasant the yellow butter
melting on white kernels, the meniscus
of red wine that coats the insides of our goblets

where we sit with sturdy friends as old as we are
after shucking the garden's last Silver Queen
and setting husks and stalks aside for the horses

the last two of our lives, still noble to look upon:
our first foal, now a bossy mare of 28
which calibrates to 84 in people years

and my chestnut gelding, not exactly a youngster 
at 22. Every year, the end of summer
lazy and golden, invites grief and regret:

suddenly it's 1980, winter buffets us, 
winds strike like cruelty out of Dickens. Somehow
we have seven horses for six stalls. One of them,

a big-nosed roan gelding, calm as a president's portrait
lives in the rectangle that leads to the stalls. We call it
the motel lobby. Wise old campaigner, he dunks his

hay in the water bucket to soften it, then visits the others
who hang their heads over their dutch doors. Sometimes 
he sprawls out flat to nap in his commodious quarters.

That spring, in the bustle of grooming
and riding and shoeing, I remember I let him go
to a neighbor I thought was a friend, and the following 

fall she sold him down the river. I meant to
but never did go looking for him, to buy him back
and now my old guilt is flooding this twilit table

my guilt is ghosting the candles that pale us to skeletons
the ones we must all become in an as yet unspecified order. 
Oh Jack, tethered in what rough stall alone

did you remember that one good winter?

More by Maxine Kumin

In the Park

You have forty-nine days between
death and rebirth if you're a Buddhist.
Even the smallest soul could swim
the English Channel in that time
or climb, like a ten-month-old child,
every step of the Washington Monument
to travel across, up, down, over or through
--you won't know till you get there which to do.

He laid on me for a few seconds
said Roscoe Black, who lived to tell
about his skirmish with a grizzly bear
in Glacier Park.  He laid on me not doing anything.  I could feel his heart
beating against my heart.
Never mind lie and lay, the whole world
confuses them.  For Roscoe Black you might say
all forty-nine days flew by.

I was raised on the Old Testament.
In it God talks to Moses, Noah, 
Samuel, and they answer.
People confer with angels.  Certain
animals converse with humans.
It's a simple world, full of crossovers.
Heaven's an airy Somewhere, and God
has a nasty temper when provoked,
but if there's a Hell, little is made of it.
No longtailed Devil, no eternal fire,

and no choosing what to come back as.  
When the grizzly bear appears, he lies/lays down
on atheist and zealot.  In the pitch-dark
each of us waits for him in Glacier Park.

Purgatory

And suppose the darlings get to Mantua, 
suppose they cheat the crypt, what next? Begin 
with him, unshaven. Though not, I grant you, a 
displeasing cockerel, there's egg yolk on his chin. 
His seedy robe's aflap, he's got the rheum. 
Poor dear, the cooking lard has smoked her eye. 
Another Montague is in the womb 
although the first babe's bottom's not yet dry. 
She scrolls a weekly letter to her Nurse 
who dares to send a smock through Balthasar, 
and once a month, his father posts a purse. 
News from Verona? Always news of war. 
  Such sour years it takes to right this wrong! 
  The fifth act runs unconscionably long.

The Hermit Goes Up Attic

Up attic, Lucas Harrison, God rest
his frugal bones, once kept a tidy account
by knifecut of some long-gone harvest.
The wood was new. The pitch ran down to blunt 
the year: 1811, the score: 10, he carved
into the center rafter to represent
his loves, beatings, losses, hours, or maybe
the butternuts that taxed his back and starved
the red squirrels higher up each scabbed tree.
1812 ran better. If it was bushels he risked,
he would have set his sons to rake them ankle deep
for wintering over, for wrinkling off their husks
while downstairs he lulled his jo to sleep.

By 1816, whatever the crop goes sour.
Three tallies cut by the knife are all
in a powder of dead flies and wood dust pale as flour.
Death, if it came then, has since gone dry and small.

But the hermit makes this up. Nothing is known
under this rooftree keel veed in with chestnut
ribs. Up attic he always hears the ghosts
of Lucas Harrison's great trees complain
chafing against their mortised pegs,
a woman in childbirth pitching from side to side
until the wet head crowns between her legs
again, and again she will bear her man astride
and out of the brawl of sons he will drive like oxen
tight at the block and tackle, whipped to the trace,
come up these burly masts, these crossties broken
from their growing and buttoned into place.

Whatever it was is now a litter of shells.
Even at noon the attic vault is dim.
The hermit carves his own name in the sill
that someone after will take stock of him.