Starting Gate by Cal Freeman

Starting Gate

In a field of Canada thistle and clover
bald in patches with sand,
in the burial place for all the Rushlow’s horses,
a blue starting gate is anchored to the earth
by knotted Virginia creeper strands
as if, like those moving starting gates
on the backs of Cadillacs at harness races,
it might float away. If a horse walks through
a starting gate’s chute, it will load
into a trailer, the logic goes,
which is why the old man bought this one
and hauled it here three decades ago.
But if we extrapolate too much
from a situation, we lose sight
of the horseness of horses.
Of course, of course, it’s not
that the tautology’s shambolic.
Instead, it’s affirming to those
who already know. Louis trots bareback
on a white speckled mare named Silest,
her sides fat from having foaled the month before.
There was a time he was a trusted friend.
I don’t talk to him anymore.
The blue paint has leached from the gate,
and nobody’s serious about horse shows
or harness racing. In a field of Canadian thistle
and clover, the bones of buried horses
wait to be enraptured. When Silest died,
they placed her on a muddy tarp
and dragged her back here while bluebottles
suckled at her girth sores. I don’t think we cried.
I’d remember Silest years later
when my mother lay on a sleeping bag
on our basement floor surrounded
by family pictures, including a black-and-white
boyhood photo of my father riding
a Shetland pony in Tulsa, OK.
My mother’s skin sallow as the sawdust streaks
in Silest’s coat, her half-closed eyelids quivering
as though scattering summer flies.


Cal Freeman is the author of the books Fight Songs (Eyewear, 2017) and Poolside at the Dearborn Inn (R&R Press, 2022). His writing has appeared in many journals including The Oxford-American, River Styx, Southword, Passages North, and Hippocampus. He currently serves as Writer-In-Residence with Inside Out Literary Arts Detroit and teaches at Oakland University.

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