By Jesse Wolfe

H-O-R-S

Tuesdays—dad’s day—when mom worked late
at the hospital, he collected us  
from school for lazy rounds of HORSE.

Sun crept behind the garage,
we slipped on sweaters, shots clanged
off the rim. Games dragged on
when leaders failed to clench their wins.

One dangled me in no-man’s-land,
H-O-R-S by myself. 
Dad, shooting first, left a free throw
short. A series of images reorganized
in my 10-year-old brain. A lefty layup 
he missed that left me victorious.
My “comebacks,” spaced far enough apart
to appear genuine. Had months of games       
been craftily wrought apologies? 

Hudson Valley Daydreams

A hot cigarette in the cold sharp air.
I’d sit on my parents’ huge back patio,
floating like an inchoate thought
above the river and a diffident mountain road.

With my twenties swiftly sliding away—
indifferent to money, a flippant heir—
I welcomed a life much less than theirs.
I liked books about antiheroic quests
confected by ironists.

History made me feel small
as evenings settled into darker blues      
and I scanned horizons
for a waning moon.
Eminent Americans—Adams, Hamilton, and Jay—   
built a nation from these unstoried hills,
of stone, timber, iron, and shimmering ideals.

I might have forged a story of myself
had I contrived a theme.
I could pretend to despise inherited wealth
or dismiss religion as a sham.
Sometimes I felt taunted by my privilege:
a quarter mile either side of me,
other vast properties sprawled from the woods.
A horse muttered alone in its barn.

My smoke dispersed in the November air
like the delicate paper on a Japanese fan
or the vanishing trail of a meaningless dream.

Notes, Once Revised

I’d found the address, stumbled
from the bus stop with my clumsy luggage.
The landlady’s face—not unkind—was businesslike,
younger than it seemed on the phone.
(Mine had been tagged as sad but hopeful
by those who’d known me all my life.)

Walls smelled like citrus;
the marble staircase glowed;
in sunlit alcoves, hellebores loomed,
their curious faces regarding my own.
My flat lay on the topmost floor,
“in walking range of two museums
and a noted lecture hall.”
I paused at the second landing, dropping
my bags, letting my biceps breathe.

What was I doing there?
Yes, only nine months, but thousands of miles
from anywhere that—if I vanished—
a single patron at a coffeeshop
should care. I’d learned—I’d tamed—
their language, but my accent couldn’t be cured.

So this was my life now! A random hunt
for I wasn’t sure what
on a lonely continent. 
I picked my suitcases up. Three more floors to go
and some sort of story to forge.
That was in ’94.

Jesse Wolfe’s poetry has appeared in publications including Tower JournalGood Works ReviewMad SwirlEunoia Review, and elsewhere. An English professor at California State University, Stanislaus, Wolfe previously served as Faculty Advisor to Penumbra, the campus’s student-run literary and art journal. His scholarly work includes the monograph Bloomsbury, Modernism, and the Reinvention of Intimacy (Cambridge University Press, 2011) and a forthcoming book on intimacy in contemporary British and American fiction. His debut poetry collection, En Route, was published in 2020 by Cathexis Northwest Press.

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