Jeopardy! category: STATES OF BEING

“This here is horse country!” the man proclaims. He doesn’t call me a “fine filly,” as I feared he might, but he does ask if I consider myself a “horse person.” (I do not.) Once, in first grade, a horse we met on a field trip tried to eat the orange wool cap off Katie Gillette’s head all because he thought it was a carrot. “Size doesn’t equal brains,” I told the chaperone, who told my parents, who quoted my remark for years. In third grade, Erica Gregory had her birthday party on a ranch, & I still remember the horse I rode was slow, gray, & bland. Sonny. (Surely not Sunny.) He loped along, unresponsive to any spur of my feet, stroke of my hand. He moved as Cream of Wheat transformed into gelding. And then there’s my lover’s mother, who loves horses but does not love the fact that her daughter has a lover like me. (Meanwhile, if I were a man, I’d be the best son-in-law she ever had!) Which is no reason to blame this land for horses, sometimes prancing & snorting in paddocks visible from the road—but mostly not. Mostly not everyone here has horses at all, though mostly everyone has wishes (like everywhere else), & my lover’s mother is fond of saying, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” I won’t beg for her love. (I won’t, I won’t.) You can lead a horse to water & all that. (I know! I know!) Sometimes it’s the rider who’s thirsty, the rider who asks too many questions, like “Why is the grass so blue?” & “Why are the caves so vast?” & “Why do bourbon barrels outnumber people two to one?” The rider prints questions like these on Post-it Notes—which were invented here of all places—in a town called Cynthiana by a man named Spencer. (The rider likes to pretend they were invented by a woman named Cynthiana in a town called Spencer, though that’s just another of the many wish-horses she rides.) Strange things happen in this place: A man made a hot billion selling pizzas from home, so naturally he built a mansion with a helipad. (Horses implied.) When his daughter failed my class at the state university, no one even came to complain. (And why a state university for the heiress with a helipad?) Another man made a hot billion in Hollywood, then came to the Bluegrass & bought a whole town. (Horses implied.) When his wife hosted a gala there—Main Street bedazzled as never before—white tie, black dress, juleps galore!—I heard the saying no one says: To be the biggest mare in the smallest stable. That’s what she was, though she seemed in need of a sugar cube, a gentle kiss across her muzzle. Before this woman & her expansive coterie, I stood in my T.J. Maxx pants, my Nordstrom Rack blouse, goblets of sweat streaming down my back as I read words I wrote into the microphone. (A whole ballroom assembled, & no one danced.) By then, I didn’t drink anymore—honest at last that I hated the taste—yet someone was always shoving a glass of Old Grand-Dad into my hand. If I were going to drink, it would be Four Roses. Oh, but I was lucky there! Like every day was Derby Day & I had placed my bet on a horse that couldn’t lose! (Wishes implied.) The mimosa trees, branches raised with tufted pink blooms, toasted me Lucky. Olmstead’s parks, their deep creek beds & their moss-covered rocks, slurped & slicked me Lucky. The highways carved between cliffs where each winter icicles formed—fifty-foot cellos, hundred-foot mandolins—then played their slow, crackling ballad called Lucky. It’s not a horseshoe amulet I wear around my neck, but this wishbone comes from the same state, carries the same weight. I’m not a horse person, you see. “Are you a turkey person?” Touché. I’ll never drink unsweetened tea again—not sure why they make such a thing. The hot brown I can take or leave, but the biscuits are manna from Heaven. Outside Kaelin’s, home of the original cheeseburger, a sign like a pat of butter instructs, If you can’t stop, please wave! I always wave—on my way home, on my way out of town, & each time I come back to visit. And when I had my birthday there one year (29! Didion: Was anyone ever so young?), I made so many wishes they galloped like horses, & only one of them never came true.

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Julie Marie Wade is the author of assorted collections of poetry, prose, and hybrid forms, including the forthcoming Meditation 40: The Honesty Room (Pank Books, 2023) and Fugue: An Aural History (Diagram/New Michigan Press, 2023). A winner of the Marie Alexander Poetry Series and the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Memoir, she teaches in the creative writing program at Florida International University and makes her home with Angie Griffin and their two cats in Dania Beach.