Inside My Grandfather’s Death Something Like 1000 Horses

Inside My Grandfather’s Death Something like 1000 Horses read by Christopher Shipman

On his deathbed—
that’s where I met him.
A construction of wires and tubes.
That hospital smell
vaguely metallic—somehow blue.
The obfuscation of light
and gauze.

There’s the blur of people
waiting to say something to Donnie.
Goodbye. The only apology
for a secret wound. Rain
of promises. 1000 horses leaping
a last time
over whatever fires behind their eyes
had never been
furnaced into words.

I learned later he was in the navy.
when he felt an unbearable urgency
tug his collar toward the bar.
I learned
he beat his wife. Drove a diesel
if he could keep work. That he had
a distinct laugh. I learned
he drank himself into diabetes
then into the bed
I met him in, shriveling in every eye.
I learned he lived 52 years.

Before he died, we waited in a line
snaking down the bright hall.
He might’ve smiled
when my father finally stood me
beside his bed.
My father—maybe he reminded him
my name. Maybe he said it
for the first time. The dying man
shivering to hear.
Me shivering to speak.

That night Uncle Wayne
held a small wake at his trailer.
Donnie’s sons.
One brother. Me in tow.
They sat me on a faux tiger-skin rug
in front of the TV.
Maximum Overdrive
played on USA Up all Night
while they played music
in a back bedroom I never saw.

The next day my father wrote
a hot check—$1000
for Donnie’s coffin & burial service
to Apple Hill Cemetery.
I’d compare this to 1000 horses
leaping inside him.
Inside his siblings. But I’ve learned
how we obscure ourselves
in our wounds.

After the wake my father
kept the recording of their attempts
at a song for Donnie. It caught
a howl no one heard
when they broke for more beer.
Just before Wayne swears
something threw him against a wall.
I remember his voice
ballooning over the movie.

We played that tape for years
until it was lost
moving from the house on Fairview
to a rundown cottage
in the woods, where we were robbed
by one of Donnie’s brothers.

Whatever rush of horses
we suffered then
is a story I can’t tell. Instead, I try
to recall a distinct laugh
I never heard.

Christopher Shipman (he/him) lives on Eno, Sappony, Shakori land in Greensboro, NC, where he teaches literature and creative writing at New Garden Friends School & plays drums in The Goodbye Horses. Recent work appears or is forthcoming in Denver Quarterly, Fence, Iron Horse Literary Review, Pedestal, Poetry Magazine, Rattle (online), & elsewhere. His experimental play Metaphysique D’Ephemera has been staged at four universities. Getting Away with Everything (Unlikely Books, 2021), in collaboration with Vincent Cellucci, is his most recent collection. More at

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