Helen Wickes

Still Life with a Halter in Its Hand

Sometimes the words appear singly, or in severals,
thrilled to be invited. They leap toward one another
with abandon
but once on the page they stare
blankly into space, where they’re from,
or where they’d like to be.
The herd of actual horses stays bunched in the trees.
There are muffled sounds and little puffs
of dust when they stamp their feet.
The one I want comes forward
because of the apple and slips his face
through the halter.
We walk and observe crows on the wire
and the woman in pink curlers walking to the mailbox.
I think about the word transience
and imagine tracing the life of writing
in reverse, through its layers—
to rough letters on parchment,
to painted figures dancing across a wall,
drop back to plain red handprints
splayed inside the cave.
I’d like to come forward from there,
stop before the grammar’s nailed down,
and find the moment there’s a mind
and a hand out of sync. The hand fumbles
to note a sense the image can’t evoke,
although whatever it is—loss, brevity
suffuses every figure: person, horse, cloud, bird
the language for abstracting heart’s sorrow
apprehended, but not set down.

Helen Wickes
Still Life with a Halter in Its Hand is from In Search of Landscape (Sixteen Rivers Press, 2007).