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A Satisfying Failure

by David Sapp

Every Thanksgiving morning on the Gambier farm, while the women bustled about the warm kitchen in floured aprons over flowered print dresses, hips bumping at countertops, chairs and children underfoot, the uncles and male cousins mustered outside beneath the willow tree in-between pick-up trucks and tractors. Like giddy, primping teenage girls in hunting accoutrements, they sized up camouflage, reflective accessories, the tenacity of hounds, girth of ammunition, and length and potency of rifles.

Uncle Harold, Grandma’s sister Martha’s husband, who over the years became increasingly as wide as he was tall, who sat in farmer’s bib overalls in front of the TV most days between Thanksgivings in their little house in town, recited long-winded deer hunting exploits from nineteen-fifty-something, gripped his gun but never got past the pasture gate, his bravado and bad knees merely sad wishful thinking.

The others seemed to relish the frozen mud, dung, blood, fingers and toes. Though it was his farm, Grandpa never attended these expeditions but waited patiently for the young men to return to sip hard cider in the cellar and to show off his new chainsaw. There were jokes about the recently acquired oversized plyers that transformed potential bulls into forlorn steers.

One winter, a few days after the relatives cleared out, the milking finished, corn shoveled for hogs, hay ferried out to cows and sheep, Grandpa and I were at the kitchen table eating slices of apple pie for lunch – Grandma at work cooking for other kids in the Kenyon College kitchen. Grandpa held up for me to see, between thumb and finger, a single shotgun cartridge, one housing a deadlier lead slug rather than the customary buckshot.

The next morning, through lightly dusting snow, he tramped alone over the quiet corn and soybean fields, found a spot in a fence row, sat, and waited for a buck to appear. Near dusk when he returned without a carcass, he smiled curiously over his failure. He accomplished nothing and was immensely satisfied. He had the pleasure of watching the day pass over his land. Years later I’d learn that Grandpa was never too interested in killing much of anything.

David Sapp, writer, artist, and professor, lives along the southern shore of Lake Erie in North America. A Pushcart nominee, he was awarded Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Grants for poetry and the visual arts. His poems appear widely in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. His publications include articles in the Journal of Creative Behavior, chapbooks Close to Home and Two Buddha, a novel Flying Over Erie, and a book of poems and drawings titled Drawing Nirvana.

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