A colt is a young male horse, a Hotspur. Full-blooded, gangly-limbed, high-spirited. But lately I read in books by men that “coltish” is a woman, a grown woman unfinished though put through her paces. Regular weeks of bleeding, pain that twists on endless tracks, eyes on every forked bit passing her lips, long whistles on the street, hands insinuating on the subway. Lives through that. Rides it out. No wonder she’s thin and skittish, our author’s coltish girl-woman. Elbows, knees, hip-bones jutting like piers into an unpredictable sea. Awkward-bodied. Jumpy. Not tamed yet, like Jane Colt when Saint/Sir Thomas More bridled her out of “a certain pity,” as his son-in-law wrote long afterward. I wonder what kind of pity is certain. The kind one feels at the sight of a splintered fence? Certainly, More wanted to groom his girl-wife (she was sixteen, he a decade older), school her in his arts and letters. No records of their lessons. No portraits of the first Mistress More, who spent half, likely more than half, of their marriage swaybacked, swollen with child, those young joints loosening and loosening, like the chariot sun slackening out of its stable at summer’s end. She was dead at twenty-two. Finished.
Carolyn Oliver’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Day One, Tin House’s Open Bar, Scoundrel Time, America, Tar River Poetry, matchbook, and elsewhere. A graduate of The Ohio State University and Boston University, she lives in Massachusetts with her family. Links to more of her writing can be found here.