The Canon by Lesley Jenike


That we’d seen a boy of twelve or thirteen riding a roan mare bareback through rye
made no difference; we couldn’t take the time to stop,

but if we had, we might’ve seen a whole village, its barn doors thrown open, all
horses to market, each one young and sound. And in the air we’d smell the
wholesome crush of dung and chimney smoke, and imagine the boy’s other stock: a
dapple grey colt he’ll sell next month once it’s broke. Stamping its hay, snuffling its
grain, it smells the sweet tang of its own sweat. Sun through the stall’s slats draws
up the dust to which they—boy, roan, and grey—will go back.

Or we might’ve seen a high rise in Dublin where a boy tethered his horse to a stop
sign. Next month he’ll clatter it on blacktop down to Smithfield Market and sell it to
a boy just like him: sweatpants, gym shoes, a yellow squirt gun. He belongs to a gang
of kids whose ponies are called for rappers or favorite biscuit brands. They never
need a saddle or bridle. What works is a fistful of mane, bully clubs tied to their belts
with twine, mean-eyed looks, a wolf whistle. The market’s cordoned streets will
shine with piss and blood. Someone will be shot with a real gun and a horse will
stagger from too little food onto cobblestone.

Waking up in the passenger seat, my father tells me how we nearly crashed, how he
spun our rental’s wheels toward a wall, dodging an oncoming tractor, a flock, a car,
all while I was sleeping, my headphones on, and in my lap an upside down, half-read
book wherein a boy refuses to grow up, is forced to sell his horse, then dies alone—
in a city or on a dirt road, it makes no difference to anyone.


Lesley Jenike’s poems have appeared in Sou’Wester, The Southern Review, The Gettysburg Review, Poetry, Smartish Pace, The Tampa Review, POOL, Rattle, and other journals. Her first book of poems is Ghost of Fashion (CW Books, 2009) and a new collection, Holy Island, is forthcoming from Gold Wake Press in 2014. She teaches at the Columbus College of Art and Design in Columbus, Ohio.