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?
"Jack" is reprinted from Jack and Other Poems by Maxine Kumin. Copyright © 2005 by Maxine Kumin. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.