Still Life

by Rachel Rodman


Ever since its domestication, and perhaps before, humanity has admired the horse.

For nearly as long, we have wondered: How does it move?

It is a famously difficult problem.

Beneath, as they race, all is a blur.

Some say they advance as jellyfish do in water. Tentacles assist their forward motion, even as the rest of the body contracts.

Others have hypothesized that they are like kangaroos. Up they leap, two-footed, before returning to earth.

On the cave walls of our ancestors, they are pictured with wings.

Still others have maintained that their appendages are unlike anything we have characterized before: infinitely branching and therefore uncountable.

How else might the animal locomote so beautifully?

It is the 1870s now, however. With motion photography comes the opportunity to settle the question.

It is a delicate and time-consuming science; one cannot be impatient.

I am impatient, all the same.

Current theories favor legs rather than tentacles.

(It is possible to measure the sounds that a horse makes, passing by. Based on these echoes–clop, clop–modern investigators have made certain inferences.)


But how many?

I have capture—yes!—the horse in profile.

Now, with my zoopraxiscope, I control the rate at which the pictures appear.

And beneath…?

“Four,” I whisper.


Rachel Rodman is the author of two collections: Art is Fleeting and Exotic Meats + Inedible Objects. More at www.rachelrodman.com.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Still Life”?

For a very long time, we didn’t understand how horses run. According to one view, horses went at a “flying gallop,” all four legs extended, all four in the air at once. (See, for illustration, a painting from 1821 and another from 1794.)

Advances in photography in the 1870s made it clear that horses do not move this way. When all four legs are off the ground, they are bunched beneath the horse’s body, not extended.

In this story, I exaggerate the degree to which horses were once misunderstood.


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