August 30, 1981

they breathe
heartbeat, battery
hay –
they are theatre

abhorrent to the
bettor, one
jet, roar, banter
then one
beat a

another, to earn honor
on the throne

Yesterday, while poking around the internet for poetic ideas, I stumbled across a French collective called the Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle (OULIPO), the Workshop of Potential Literature. It was my first time hearing of this group, but as someone who has always enjoyed writing poetry in forms, I found myself fascinated by the fact that they just…have taken the idea of constraint as inspiration to find the audacity to decide that something is a form, and write within that form. I dropped what I was doing, took the bus to Harold Washington Library, and checked out (or put on hold) everything I could find in their catalog about OULIPO. Earlier today, I barreled through The State of Constraint.

Then, before I lost my nerve. I pulled out a pen. I borrowed their idea of the Beau Present — writing a poem with only the letters in a name, or a matched pair of names. I chose a matched pair, John Henry and The Bart. I added my own constraint, based on the fractions of the first Arlington Million: 25.1, 50.1, 1:15.3, 1:42.2, 2:07.3. Each digit defined the number of syllables in each line. Zeroes meant line breaks.

Trigger Warning, 2015-2018

a duty that would douse the fire to race
that gently glows inside a lesser horse
instead it only served to stoke the blaze
and power him with ever stronger force

when asked to clash with titans, his heart stirred
he found the will to stare them in the eye
each time, and come back tougher, undeterred
if, grudgingly, he had to let one by

he fought through rain to long-sought victory
but never made it back where laurels fell
a heart, alone, lacks manifest to be
without an equine body to propel

if only raw desire could reknit
the bone and sinew charged to carry it

Frontier Red

Frontier Red
a bay more brown than blood
when shrouded by sweat and twilight
only occasionally sparkling
when she passes under the burning floodlights

most of the time the winner trots back
easily, head held high
a quarter-mile victory stroll

she laboured back, dragging her empty rear hooves behind her
hanging her head, bobbing it up and down, searching
for any current of spare oxygen her flaring nostrils could catch
to replenish reserves run empty
by fighting to the wire to beat
six other non-winners
     of one pari-mutuel
     to be claimed for eight thousand dollars
a level that wouldn’t test so many on the grounds
but only left her with enough
to perform the herculean labours of
lifting her eyes to the winners’ circle camera
and trudging home

analysis of the only maiden in the 2017 Kentucky Derby, in the only appropriate form

though Sonneteer is 0 for 10 — a flaw —
he’s more than just a Trojan Nation two
in both the final preps in Arkansas
his late pace shined, a rally did ensue
his hooves are crossed the speed gets in a fight
that Always Dreaming, Fast and Accurate,
Irap, and State of Honor come to light
along the front, a blazing fire lit
his stamina should have him running late
he also has some form on wetter ground
and in the irons a veteran team-mate:
as three times Kent Desormeaux roses found
you will not see a winner in this verse
but as a longshot under, there are worse

Mastery, 3.11.17, 2:07pm PDT

’tis never promised, always hoped, a horse
with early talent past what foes have shown
will gallop on along a steady course:
to grow into himself and to endorse
the highest hopes of those who would enthrone.
’tis never promised, always hoped, a horse
will face the best directly and enforce
his quality against what they have thrown,
will gallop on along a steady course
across the wire, beyond all doubt a force —
then so abruptly stop — to then intone:
’tis never promised, always hoped, a horse
will let the learned doctor’s hands enforce
the slow repair of fragile equine bone,
will gallop on along a steady course
back to the starting gate, or as a source
of faster blood for generations grown.
’tis never promised, always hoped, a horse
will gallop on along a steady course.

Jess’s Next Dream

someone who twice saw immortality
asleep a night, or for eternity
dreamt two forever horses made a third

although Apollo’s bane came to begird
and Triple Crown dreams soon became absurd
one August day made dreams reality

he carried hopes that he would duplicate
but never came back to the starting gate
a scintillating start: no guarantee

on this December day his legacy
now rests in faith that his rich family tree
takes root to flourish in the Sunshine state

to Lady Eli

a bold display of power, strength, and grace
a difficult debut, she found the wire
ears up, and proud peace beaming from her face

she stronger grew, her deeds pronounced the case
for champion’s laurels — in each start did transpire
a bold display of power, strength, and grace

our nation’s fastest could not keep her pace
as on the Fourth she set her standard higher
ears up, and proud peace beaming from her face

a nail, her foot, the wrong time, the wrong place
from turf to ice she carried her heart’s fire
a bold display of power, strength, and grace

she sounder grew, in her team’s strong embrace
through morning gallops, fitness reacquired
ears up, and proud peace beaming from her face

the Spa proved she still lives and breathes to race
the Flower Bowl, once more, time to admire
a bold display of power, strength, and grace
ears up, and proud peace beaming from her face

a day in verse

Today is the first of two major weekends for final Breeders’ Cup preps.  It is also the first weekend since early March that there has not been racing action in Chicago, so it gives me some time to focus on just the out of town preps.

It also gives me some time to play with words: one cherita for each of the day’s ten graded stakes races at Belmont and Santa Anita.  I chose the form because it is short, flexible, and lends itself to imagery and narrative.

If you’re not into poetry, my next post will be back to my (normal) prose.  If you do read poetry, come in.Read More »

a Lady’s day at Ascot

words of praise and hopes for things to come
traversed the sea before the royal meet
the bluegrass, knowing well its equine sum
had never seen four hooves so young so fleet

but waters deepened on the other shore
and in the bog none knew if form would hold
so challengers who numbered four by four
came forth to test the burgundy and gold

Frankie eased his Lady to the lead
then chilly sat as she sped down the course
and sixteen fillies felt their pilots plead
but none could find an answer to her force

he shook the reins, her lead became a chasm
as great as her home soil’s enthusiasm

a moment all too brief

we crowd the rail, a moment all too brief
a deep bay flash jets past the Golden Gate
to fill our minds and hearts with Shared Belief

his hooves sketch his victorious motif
at every racetrack in the Golden State
we crowd the rail, a moment all too brief

and every outing adds onto the sheaf
of paeans to his speed and power innate
to fill our minds and hearts with Shared Belief

and greatness keeps us searching overleaf
two years of common hope more would await
we crowd the rail, a moment all too brief

best earthly care not always brings relief
but eyes and hands deprived, it’s still our fate
to fill our minds and hearts with Shared Belief

let awe for his time here allay our grief
next summer by the surf, we congregate
we crowd the rail, a moment all too brief
to fill our minds and hearts with Shared Belief

a Classic verse

With all apologies to the Haiku Handicapper, this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic was sufficiently dramatic to require a Sonnet Recapper. As the Sonnet Recapper does not actually exist, Blinkers Off makes its attempt.

the gates flew open, Bayern flew inside
momentum’s law impacted the stampede
through Shared Belief, Moreno then denied
the only chance presented one-way speed
then Shared Belief was slowed a bit by Toast
as Bayern made it where he liked to be
and kept his nose in front at every post
a light came on: a stewards’ inquiry
while all the world awaited final word
with riders, judges both they did consult
the stewards then claimed that it had occurred
in such a stage impactless on result
no matter what they said or didn’t say
we’re left to wonder who was best that day