Poems by Jude Nutter
Ernest Sandeen Prize from the University of Notre Dame 2006
2007 Minnesota Book Award in poetry
selections from this collection
We pass them being wheedled
and cajoled around small corrals, a confetti
of spit across each wide breast and the sweat
between their legs worried up into foam.
Their hooves flash in the dirt like polished bells.
We pass them as they sleep, standing up
among the dandelions and tasseled grasses
gone to seed. They enter our lives
like fragments of Eden, the place that has always
been our most difficult, elaborate dream.
And once seen—even from a freeway
when you’re doing sixty, aware of your peril—
it’s an effort of will to take your eyes from a horse
in a field. Grace is like that. No other animal
occupies its skin so precisely, or walks forward
so carefully, as if pushing through great hauls
of dark water, chest deep in a stiff current.
I don’t believe we are meant to think about death,
even on those evenings
when a thin mist rides on the fields and their hooves
waver beneath them like votive flames. A horse
becomes its own myth and religion: out from the dark
machinery of its body something better,
and more beautiful, is always about to begin;
and if you ever need proof that it’s good
to have a physical body, touching
a horse in this life is the closest you will get to it.
To catch grace off guard: a lone horse
dozing in a field, the long reach of its neck
presented to the world, its thick lower lip fallen
away from the fence of its teeth
and there, beguiling as god’s empty pocket,
pale skin of the inner mouth. Before you die
look into the eyes of a horse at least once
and discover how each is an empty room
lit by a single candle. If the gods ever come down
to walk among us, this is where they will live.
And so when a horse, seeing nothing about us
it can recognize, lowers its deep,
soft mouth to the grass and when that grass,
appearing wet in the sunlight, rises to greet it,
as if the lips of the dead were puckered skyward
for its kiss, it should be no surprise. How can we not
love an animal that spends so much of its life
with its mouth so close to the dirt. That they take,
with such tenderness, the mints
and the carrots we offer—as if the world
were ours to give—is the miracle; that they let us
slip on the sky-blue halter and lead them
through the cool of the evening.
by Jude Nutter
Copyright Jude Nutter. All rights reserved. First Published in Missouri Review 27 (2004).
The Cherry Picker
This was an intimacy I had not expected: slipping
my body into his working clothes, into the pellucid
kick of loneliness and sweat and an emptiness
which felt like fear. Even the snaps were too large.
I fastened them, claiming all
his losses. His hands, as he helped me
over the rail onto the platform, were hard
and relevant against the back of my thigh and
I wondered then if he were married. It was raining
and the trees were a green you imagine existing
only as a dream inside the skulls
of birds. The cuffs of his jacket
fell level with my knees; McGRAFF it said
across the back in wide reflective letters.
When we rose from the world, from the up-turned
faces of the firemen below, I lost, but not
all at once, the sulkiness of someone’s lower lip; the scar
above another’s eye—that raised
nick in the dark hair of an eyebrow a reminder
of how the body gets damaged in deep
and common ways. All around, the trees fell away
to a green indifference. I watched his hands.
When he spoke, it was about the moodiness
of hydraulics; about the lightness of touch it takes
sometimes to get work done—the flirtation
so brave, it was a luxury
I refused, and yet I wanted to reach out
through the permission he gave and touch
his arm; say: listen, do you hear that?
because birds were flying under us, their songs
sounding wrong; I wanted to pull his head down
close to mine and make him listen
to the rain, having come so far to reach us,
sounding important against the fabric of his jacket;
to our breath, having come further still,
catching, loud and significant,
beneath the helmet’s wide rim. I wanted him
to pay attention to what there is; to the sudden
lust you can feel for a stranger making its small
noises against the back of your throat
because of how he smiles whenever you grip
the rail of the cherry picker as it bounces,
slightly, high over the car park; how, when he asks,
looking down, have you had enough? you notice
the clean, perfect crescents of his fingernails, rain
shining in the hair at the nape of his neck, the dark
stigmata the wet rail has made
across the front of his trousers. It’s details like this
that change a life. So you look down, away,
toward that privacy the trees create
around themselves, in sunlight, with their leaves,
and you say, before you can touch him, yes.
by Jude Nutter
Copyright Jude Nutter. All rights reserved. First published in Water~Stone Review 2.1 (1999).