Poetry Monday: May 5th, 2008

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Maxine Kumin


Long before there was a Poet Laureate of the United States, there was a Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.  Maxine Kumin, one of our most beloved American poets, had that honor.  She has also been Poet Laureate of  New Hampshire,  a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, winner of a Pulitzer Prize as well as many other prestigious fellowships and awards.  One or more of her many books (sixteen poetry collections, a stirring memoir, four novels, a short-story collection, four books of essays and more than twenty children’s books) surely must be on some of your shelves already.

Over eighty now, she lives on a farm in New Hampshire with her husband, her horses and dogs.  She doesn’t have a brand-new poem for us because they are all, as she says, “bespoke.”  But here, with her help in selection, are three that she agreed to share with our readers..

Irene Willis
Poetry Editor

The Kentucky Derby

The Queen stood for what looked
like hours while Barbaro

was honored after they had had
to put him down. Why

do they race them so young?
Money. She wore

a lime green outfit, even
her shoes matched. Her hat

was no surprise to those
of us who remember half

a century of British millinery..
She displayed a keen eye

for the horses but the announcement
that she rides her horse

on weekends tickled me. Weekends!
Is there so much to do Monday

through Friday when you’re
Queen? Dutifully standing

through all the lesser races
and taking the steps without

a hand on railings, that is
queenly. I’d like

to see Her Majesty
some Sunday in the saddle.

from Per Contra (online journal, Spring 2008)


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 31
which calibrates to 93 in people years

and my chestnut gelding, not exactly a youngster
at 25. 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?

from Jack and Other New Poems (W.W. Norton, 2005)

The Long Marriage

The sweet jazz
of their college days
spools over them
where they lie
on the dark lake
of night growing
old unevenly:
the sexual thrill
of Peewee Russell’s
clarinet; Jack
Teagarden’s trombone
half syrup, half
sobbing slide;
Erroll Garner’s
rusty hum-along
over the ivories;
and Glenn Miller’s
plane going down
again before sleep
repossesses them…

Of course
the Germans have
a word for it,
the shutting of
the door,
the bowels’ terror
that one will go
the other as
the clattering horse
hooves near.

from The Long Marriage (W.W. Norton, 2001)

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