27 June 2018
When I get home I’ll see you there through the entry window, at the heart of the floor, sleep-watching the stairs, on watch for blurs through your cloudy cataracts, on watch for me in your dreams.
Have I gone on one of those day-long rides in your car? Why didn’t I take you along. Or am I upstairs in bed. When will I come down and carry you up. Where will I be when you have finally left us. Have I grown dependent on your attachments.
When I open the door you don’t seem to hear it groan. Now you sense that someone is here. You turn to me as my shadow covers you, and my hand reaches your gentle head. Water in the boat.
I’ll find what remains of breakfast in your dish, shrunken and stiffened from the long dry day. I clean it out, drop fresh dinner in, fold in the sour pills that dull your pain. I bring it to you and you seem—interested. But the bitterness it sticks to your tongue. It all falls from your mouth like a judgment on my soul. You, my poor innocent, betrayed by my wretched love. There is water in the boat.
Carolyn called me from home today to warn me that our time with you is ending. We will need to cut you out of our chests soon, lacerate the bleeding fibrous soul to liberate you from your pain. The invasive procedure will not spare the children. One feared dogs so we came to you, you—gentle with age. Now she loves you but now she must learn the most terrible thing about dogs.
My hands cannot do this. I look for the athletic wrap that has fallen from the bone, or removed by a child’s compassion. You follow me faithfully, dragging your hind legs. They catch on tables and chairs, pull up rugs.
The things that cannot be expressed: you have taught me that they are the only things that must be said; and the words tumble like drunkards out of an upended box.
I find the elastic: torn, soiled, softened with wear, coil it around the arthritic foot.
Where am I now, so far from you? The words that stain the page swim in the sea of my drowned eyes. The saltwater is cold. I leave the words to drown. We must walk.
After supper I’ll harness you up, tighten the axle-bolts on your cart, and lower you in. You pull forward and the wheels turn, but you refuse to roll beyond the porch, turning your contraption back to the door. You can be so stubborn. I beg you. There is no magic in my words when I plead, “Go for a walk?” Your ears do not spring up. Can you hear me girl? Does it hurt?
When we first met, you were little more than a hip condition. I might’ve dodged you for that, but Carolyn, she wanted you all the more for it. Why did you believe in me. I can’t see.
Living the brief life of a fading dream, I see the great sleeping torrent before me, feel it under me, hear it trail behind the oars. The shores roll forward slow in the outer corner of each eye, drifting backward, helpless against that Almighty Flow.
I see you there, far upriver, on a world of water running free, leash trailing behind, in eager pursuit of some cottontail or squirrel too small, too remote for me to see. I hear the echoes of my scolding over the waters: Mimi get back here. Come back girl.
The oars pull against the Flow. My hands recall the intimate tension of a tug on the leash. Does the great Water feel the oar. For an instant my hands think they feel you. Fingers stretch into the void, but fools, close in on themselves. Twin fetuses of delusion.
I still see your young eyes over the surface, sharp, deep with light; flaming amber in the sun. I know that soon I will not. I am afraid to blink. I must row. I tell myself that I know you will still be there, far upriver when I can no longer see you—but that comfort it whispers despair.
Water in the boat. It flows cold in my shoes, violates the thighs, fills the chest, makes the throat a hose to the eyes; I dare not stop the flood, fearing that when it ebbs … you will be gone.
10 August 2018
Standing alone in the fenced grassland of a place you loved, I talk to you. Do you think of us, girl, somewhere out there, in here, behind the curtain of time. Praying that the past is not gone, I pray to you, heart of my soul, that you are there, still running across the yellow summer grass at the apex of your joy, ever faithful that I am not far behind.
For years on years, morning did not begin with the sun but with a scratching on the footboard as you stirred, your weight and your warmth at our feet, then that low whisper of a whine that grew gently from your slight exhalations. For a lifetime it seems that was our call to rise. Without it how can the day begin. An emptiness at the foot of the bed now, grey void that could never have been had you not once come to us. The whole world would have been quite fine without you dear girl, but now having known you it grieves, crowded with ghosts, a haunting for every lost little routine. I throw a pillow over my feet, and trick myself to sleep.
The trail snakes down the hillside before me, and I can almost feel you at my side, phantom friend.
How you loved the chase. Once I let you off leash here and you spotted the boars, and to my terror you charged, you ran beside the boar-herd through the dry oak wood. Was it the hunt, dear girl, or sport, or had you found your flock on the green hills of Argyll?
I unfasten your leash from your collar and you start your wandering communion about the hilltop, inhaling the landscape of a world where humanity stands alone, blind.
I begin down the trail a distance, stop, and turn, let you explore your world of scent and breeze, wait for you to notice that I am no longer at your side, so that you may … return to me.
How many times now I’ve turned, girl, needing to see you there, to see you anxious to see me.
Pulling your collar out of my pocket; when it jingles you appear. The fabric and the sound, they carry your scent into the depths of the world, deeper than thought, deeper than soul. I breathe you in to bring you home.
It hurts to remember. I’m afraid to forget, even to die. It is all betrayal. There is no remembering in death and you must not be forgotten. And you, you must remember, girl; but no, love: it is not so well. You must also forget.
The Back Lawn at Night
But I do not. I stubbornly sit on the unlit patio, gaping into the darkness of your grassy daybed, banded along its edge with green light from the closed kitchen blinds. I feel you there where there is no light, and me there with you. I rub your back, your shoulders, your ribs and belly. I know all of your skin tags. I inhale the warm perfume of your oily fur.
The feel of my fingers wrapped around a hind leg: they rub and knead their way footward. The disease has left it all fur on bone thin between finger and thumb, what broadens at the paw, and rough, warm and tender pads (the fingers embrace and caress, trembling).
I give your snout and brow a firm rubbing and gently stroke your delicate ears. I scratch the nape of your neck, and deeply. You push back against my hand to help me dig a little deeper. You always demanded a strong hand. Was it the pain.
I scratch just below your ribcage. The ledge there has always wanted a little rubbing. I scratch and rub the ribs under each arm. Your arthritic little legs kick away to partake in the scratching. We scratch together girl for a little while more, until the numbness … robs you of the reflex.
When we come home now, we can feel you waiting alone behind the door, its squeak in harmony with the jingle of your tags. When the door opens now there is nothing but omnipotent silence.
I walk through the void to the back door, yearning for your impossible presence, to see you stretched out on the grass, waiting. Where are you, girl? I shake your collar. The tags jingle to bring you home.
Someday the tags will fall silent. Your scent fades each day. I’ll have to find the courage to seek you out in the lonesome eyes of some luckless stray. When I do will you meet me there? Tell me. For once I need you to speak to me, or just let me stroke your ears again.
© 2018 Kaweah (Dan Jensen)