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my dog emerges from the tangle of weeds
white puffs crown his wrinkled head
clinging for miles, before floating off in the breeze
i recall the meticulous diagrams in biology textbooks,
never describe the spiritual points surrounding seed-dispersal
the seed journeys as far from home as possible
keeping itself small and light, floating upon prevailing whims
my dog plunges back into the thistle with a sneeze
Stan Was Here
This article has been immensely helpful to me in articulating my grief after Stanley’s death.
How to Grieve a Very Good Dog by Annette McGivney.
Since I was 25, Stanley has alleviated my pain. His absence feels like a massive burden that I simply can’t set down. Allowing myself to feel the intensity of my emotions (rather than attempting to “push through”) has been helpful. Writing has been helpful. So I write!
Much love to you, as always.
The last time I visited family in North Carolina, Stanley was with me. It felt nice to have a co-pilot on the nine hour drive. It was hot that summer. 86 degrees by 6AM with 90% humidity. We did our walking before sunrise. Stan dug a hole in the yard, under the trailer, to keep away from the sun.
At night, with the AC cranked, we slept on an air mattress in the home office. I let him sleep next to me, even though it was prohibited. His claws could easily puncture the bed, but nothing catastrophic happened. We rolled toward each other on the center of the mattress. Back to back, spine to spine.
When we left, I scrawled a note on the whiteboard: “Stan was here”, accompanied by a caricature of his giant head.
I visited North Carolina for the first time without him last month. I slept on the same saggy air mattress. I noticed his likeness, still scrawled on the whiteboard.
I plan to continue making this caricature of him when traveling. In the margins of all my notes.
An offering to his memory wherever I go.
Existence (In II Steps)
Bringing life into the world is not very different than bearing witness to its end. Even with advanced notice, these events are abrupt, momentous, and terrifying.
I had never been a parent before Stanley. He helped make me a better caregiver, advocate, baker, storyteller, hiker, and friend. He got me out of bed on days when it seemed impossible. He helped me learn that while I was sensitive, I was also brave.
He gave me the gift of trusting my instincts. If the vibes are off, sometimes you have to bail. It doesn’t have to make sense. You don’t have to explain it to anybody. Just get back to a space of safety and love. I think of this often, because I subconsciously scan my environment for his phobias. Plastic bags blowing in the breeze, precariously perched laundry baskets, smoke alarms, and beeps of any kind.
Stanley was a vigilant and gentle older brother to my daughter. He passed just shy of her first birthday and his eleventh. I hope Stan is the dog archetype embedded into her subconscious. That she will carry a notion of his lumbering, loyal, loving energy forever.
The below poems were written at separate times in the past year and retitled to make them a pair. The titles are a way to help me grasp that the events of birth and death are not points on a line, but part of a cycle.
I. GENESIS (For I.)
fear hung about
like any operation
the sterile halls
the blinding metal table
the silence before your first breath
fear was never your deep lungs
never your cat-like howling
II. TERMINUS (For Stan)
my mind is constantly searching
for the shape of you. every
shadow, your form in
repose. every soft
you must be somewhere
outside of my peripheral
waiting to break free
Grief as A Pop Song
Stanley was more like a Newfoundland than a Labrador in that he disliked people being in the water. Herding me back to shore when I waded in Lake Erie. Fetching the stick a few times, spitting it out in the water (out of our reach), and spending the rest of the time sniffing the sand for places to pee. Stanley hated water so much, he even watched over the baby’s tiny plastic whale-shaped tub, frantically nudging us to lift her if she cried.
Stanley also hated dancing to the point where I jokingly called him “The Dad from Footloose.” His face would set in stern disapproval. He would bump into your legs and try to box you into a corner where you couldn’t move about. He would bring toys and blankets to try to distract you. He especially hated it if you had the baby while dancing – he never liked her lifted, twirled, or subjected to any sudden movements. There were many a Whitney Houston “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” pandemic work-from-home dance breaks that were shut down because he wasn’t having it.
He didn’t really like singing, either. Before the tumors spread, and he could sleep comfortably on his back, I would frequently cradle him in my arms like a baby. I’d sing pop songs from turn-of-the-millennium boy bands that were popular in my youth. He tolerated it because he liked the attention. He also tolerated the hours of lullabies that stopped his newborn sister from crying.
Stan probably hated hide-and-seek the most. It was short-lived whenever we played, as he quickly became upset. Perhaps he really thought I was lost and in trouble. He would play along for a few seeks, and then frantically headbutt “Stop it!”
The way to get him to locate me the fastest (and to know the hide-and-seek game was afoot) was to belt out the melodic Tarzan vocalization in the aptly named 1985 song “Tarzan Boy” by Baltimora (link below, so you can appreciate the absurdity). It was not a hypothesis that I tested, but something that happened once by chance that stuck.
This impossibly upbeat earworm is still in my musical repertoire. Whenever it comes up on playlists, or spills out of my mouth during late-night pop-folk-traditional-country-hymnal lullaby mashups, I have a few sparkling seconds after the leading:
where I recall the love and solidarity Stan and I had. The hours of us against the world. The Tarzan Boy call worked to summon him from anywhere in the house. It worked if we were separated by long distances in the forests and swamps of Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The emotion of anticipating hearing him clack up the stairs or burst through the brush does not leave.
I truly believe he would get back to me if we were allowed the honor of playing hide-and-seek one last time.
Synonyms for Lost
My cousin sent me a fantastic prism window hanging to memorialize Stan. When the sun shines, the crystals throw rainbows across the front room. The baby attempts to grasp the bright lights on the rug. I move it to my office on days I’m attached to my work computer.
When I come home from a run or a walk, I can see the inscribed medallion shining in the window.
I tend to run more than walk nowadays because it’s not an activity Stan and I did together. I deeply miss our long slow walks around the neighborhood. The neighborhood doesn’t feel as much like home.
The word I’m looking for is bereft.
New Year’s Thaw
we walk the damp streets
constellations of Christmas lights
shift behind slatted window shades.
Delphinus, Aquila, Cygnus
warm mists drift suburban scents:
dryer sheets, mildewed basements,
sawdust from a recently felled maple
our footprints on the muddied walk
fade by February
Notes – 3/27/21
3793 plays their baby grand.
Three houses down, toddler twins
rasp their plastic-wheeled trikes
down their driveway. A symphony
of suburban sound. I walk, lock-
step with my dog. Savoring the warmth
of a mild march day. Spearmint on my breath.
Hope in the rays of the sun and that they stay awhile.
The sunset, a gradient violet, and saffron.
Like the delicate petals of early bluets.
I can’t bear to go in yet.
We sit well into the dark.
The streetlights are on.
The little mouse scurries across
my stoop and tunnels into the foliage
beneath my neighbor’s rhododendron.
This is beneath the dog to comment on.
I lean my back against the brick house.
It radiates warmth stored from the day’s sunlight.
I belong. I belong. I belong.
I Bring This News to You in Anger, Horror, and Resignation
You’ve got to make it through all of the “firsts” without him. The first Thursday. Your birthday. Then his.
Crying alone over the green shoots of spring daffodils. The first piece of good news. The next bit of bad.
You’ve got to make it through, knowing only that grief is more prolific than useless baseball statistics.
It just goes on like this. It just goes on like this. It just goes on like this. And nothing can make it stop.
Reminders (of Stanley)
- The Lake
- The Chagrin River
- Furnace Run
- Oak Trees
- Violets and Bluets (Spring)
- Buttercups and Forget-me-nots (Summer)
- Chicory and Black-eyed Susans (Fall)
- Dried Thistles, Rattling in the Cold (Winter)
- The Iridescence of Crow Feathers
- The Crows’ Persistence
Metamorphosis (In III Steps)
Stan and I were an unstoppable duo, and he helped me rebuild my life post-divorce. Making weird art, hanging out, going on hikes, and holding him tempered so much disappointment and loss. I have edited and retitled several works from that time to make them more cohesive. Thank you, sweet Stan!
spend all your time
in a house far too spacious
for a small woman and her large dog
the dog takes up two-thirds of our bed, two heads
on the same pillow
back-to-back, spine-to-spine, vertebrae
he turns upside down, four paws easing into the air
drooping grayed pasterns downward
in a cloak of crumbling plaster
and twisted-pair cabling crown
tarnished copper veins ache
for a heart that long stopped ringing
she emerges from her brick chrysalis
and spreads her asbestos-tiled wings
with none but the dog to witness
(Image description: Female polyphemus moth resting on a brick windowsill.)
The Seven Wonders of the World
- Young Bowie smiling (before he fixed his teeth).
- The sunset at Endert’s Beach, California.
- Cold fried chicken on the drive home from Cedar Point.
- Recurring dreams where the attic is a portal to the past.
- Peace that follows grieving.
- How grief finds a way to circle back.
- My dog asleep in my arms.
I lost my beloved Labrador at the beginning of the month due to complications with late-stage lymphoma. Stanley was a month shy of being 11 years old. From diagnosis to his passing, we had 2 weeks. Two glorious weeks of eating whatever the hell he wanted. Two weeks to cherish my soulmate. Two weeks of couch cuddles and slow, cold walks around the block.
On his last day, I made him his favorite mini apple lattice pie. He got a cheeseburger and fries. We went on a short loop walk in his favorite park. He lay in the center of our living room among the baby’s toys, listening to the extended family talk. He always kept track to make sure we were all safe. He left the room to lie down on his bed in the den, where he began having breathing complications and shaking.
Stanley passed peacefully that evening at the emergency vet. I cradled and kissed his head, listing every person who ever loved him. My mom rubbed his back.
As a survivor, I must bear the burden of unconditional love into the interminable future and carry the wellsprings of joy and pain that his memory evokes.
The posts for the foreseeable future will be about our life together. I’ve revised some old pieces as an attempt to write my way through grief, but it is insufficient.
I wrote the below in Fall of 2019. Just Stan and me building a new life in this big old rental.
labrador retriever at 3:23 AM
the dog whines to go outside
i walk slow from my bedroom
down the steep steps
and he clumsily follows
“don’t knock me down
the goddamn stairs!”
i stage whisper
– he snorts
into crisp Cleveland
he relieves himself
on the hydrangea bush
illuminate the leaves
across my pale limbs
cool air carries
a distant skunk
he smells the wind
and comes back inside
to drink water like a moose
my mind seeks
the gentle tones
of human voices
rustling in the treetops
i whisper back
to the breeze
“Stan’s a good boy”
and pet his velvet ears
he is already asleep
a cozy, rounded-corner
(first dream of the new year)
We rescue three kittens:
One striped and two black.
I know it is a dream because I am not allergic.