[Copic markers and pencil on paper. 9 in by 12 in. Illustrated by Katharen Hedges.]
An Ode to Labradors
You write 1001 poems in your head on the way home from the vet’s office, each with different beginning lines.
One is, you feel like an unwanted spectator into your father’s private grief, he is prisoner and you are prison guard, you see each other but neither reaches out. His sobs sound different through the phone, metallic, but maybe it’s just because you’ve never heard him cry.
The second poem is a lot cheesier. Mostly you just discuss the movie Marley & Me, how it’s the only movie you’ve ever truly cried at, how tears still fall every time you watch it, how you hear Owen Wilson in your head when they are putting him to sleep, how the movies are completely right and completely wrong, and how everything they say about Labradors is true.
Poem number three: you are not sure you can sleep tonight with him not by your bed.
Number four talks about the man who drives you and your stepmom and your dying dog to the hospital, how he has gentle hands and a bad back and offers to stay the night since your father is away on a business trip and can’t lift your dog when it’s time, how after it’s over he hugs you and you feel a little bit better because sometimes strangers are as sweet as dogs.
Poem five begins like this: How do you say goodbye to a dog who was the first bridge between you and your dad?
Six. Tea tastes like grief and how your throat is too warm and fleshy, how it feels to swallow, but it also tastes like every other emotion all at once because you never stop drinking it, it’s too much, it’s too much, today is the longest day.
Poem #7. 6:30 AM and a vet is telling you it’s the kindest, the lights are too bright and you wonder how you ever make this decision, is he ready, are we, what if he isn’t and we are, what if it’s the exact opposite.
8. The kids are too young to understand, the news falls off their souls like water and rainboots, you sort of want to shake the grief right into them, you feel guilty for wishing they understood.
Number nine. He has given you so many gifts. Even now there is dog hair on your black skirt, an annoyance you used to loathe, when you kiss him right when it’s almost over, he gives you one last gift: A breath, a last one, a reminder that he has been there for you every night since you were three and that won’t stop now, he stays brave longer than you do like always. He says goodbye.
Poem number ten. You say thank you.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
My grandmother worships tulips in springtime,
tells me when I am 5
that she will travel to the tulip fields in Europe before she dies,
(I refrain from asking why she can’t go after),
tells me when I am six that they are proof of God.
When I am sixteen,
new age churches tell me it doesn’t matter
if I’m standing or kneeling, if my eyes are open or closed,
if I fold my hands or not,
it is always called prayer.
I think, this would’ve been helpful after 4th grade sunday school,
a stuffy room with wax windows,
when I prayed for forgiveness for praying,
praying with my eyes open by our iris plants,
Iris plants with petals like worshipping monks.
If prayer is only hope or desperation or a recognition of something
other than ourselves,
aren’t we all always praying?
Once upon a time there no flowers,
nothing for my grandmother to worship on Tuesday evenings.
I do not know what a prayer is,
but my mother thinks we are some vast cosmological sea,
that only by worshipping each other can we know God,
before flowers there were raw and unclothed continents,
naked as sunburns and bald tires,
without flowers we never would have come to exist,
this is why my father thinks prayer is self-worship.
I do not know exactly what a prayer is.
I hope to find it some day, Moses on the quest for milk and honey,
I hope I will stumble on the definition,
perhaps under a tree with thick leaves
that only lets enough sunlight in to warm the left side of my face,
a half-ode to a God who smells of deer footfalls and
knows what prayer means like Webster’s dictionary.
You have entered a city you are not sure you should call home,
your ribcage is the gates and your hands are guards,
warning you, this city is not pretty enough for the movies,
there is no glass here, only the fragility of it,
tender necks and bloody stomachs,
your heart, an angry muscle, an angry king,
trapped by the mesh of his own skin,
saying, turn back woman,
it is not too late to leave the cobblestones of your palms.
He does not realize that you are already too far inside,
the gates of your bones are closed,
that you look the way iron smells and
you are trying not to dirty what you touch,
that already your thighs avoid glass for fear of being seen
and your mind is stone,
your synapses statues.