Still Life with Horses



My father claimed that going hungry during the Depression in Escanaba, Michigan was helpful in his development of a life’s philosophy, which was essentially that sentiment was a waste of time and even offensive, since the one thing you could never eat was a soft feeling. He came to this conclusion when he was ten and watched his grandfather slaughtering a horse in falling snow, a creature my father had often ridden and fed. The red blood against the white made him turn away in shame, but the strips of meat, once they were cooked, slipped into his shrunken belly like a perfect benediction. Much later, when I was twelve, he drove me north to Escanaba to visit his grandfather’s grave—“A true son of a bitch,” he announced proudly—and we climbed from the car on the outskirts of the farm where he’d been raised, walked to a rail fence, and gazed at several horses with their necks bowed in supplication, feasting on the tall grass. “I ate one of your relatives!” my dad called out with such good cheer that I wasn’t certain for a moment it was really him. Then he cried—the only time I ever saw that—with great gusts of breaths that embarrassed him so thoroughly that he slapped me when I asked what was wrong.




Doug Ramspeck is the author of seven collections of poetry, one collection of short stories, and a novella. One recent book, Black Flowers, is published by LSU Press and was a finalist for the UNT Rilke Prize. Individual poems have appeared in The Kenyon Review, Slate, The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, and many other literary journals. His short story “Balloon” was listed as a Distinguished Story for 2018 in The Best American Short Stories. He is a three-time recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, twice for poetry and once for fiction.