Small Conceits

Musings. Stories. Poems. From where I stand.


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The Crossing

Note: I originally published this as a series, without posting it to my social channels, for reasons of my own. It’s still out here as individual pieces, but I’m reposting as a single poem, to make it easier to read — a long scroll, rather than the need to find and click through each individual section. I’ve also made a few, small revisions for clarity’s sake.

A year ago tonight, as Coyote lay dying, I wrote scraps of poetry in the spaces between tending to her. I eventually strung those scraps together into one long poem in 10 sections, one for each year she lived with me. I’ll publish one every night for the next 10 days.

This is my small ceremony, marking her passing. It’s the part of the story I haven’t yet told: the strange journey of her last hours.


i – The Watchers

The Ancestors silently wait,

warming themselves in the silvery lights

of a thousand-thousand watch-fires

burning in the night sky —

beacons lit to guide you Home.

Each of your inhalations is a rattle,

a small ceremony in itself.

I count the spaces between them

and send the Watchers the only prayer that will take shape

in my grief-ravaged mind:

Be gentle. Carry this soul gently away.

 

ii – Fire Ceremony

For three days and three nights

I’d burned the spirit candle

afraid of missing the exact moment.

You lingered, long after the wick became ash.

On the last night, I scraped together the puddled wax,

collected it in a bowl and lit another candle beneath it.

I helplessly prayed that its drifting, perfumed smoke

would still mark the shining path for you.

 

iii – Visitation

You pant, releasing a savage cry,

a groaning howl that rakes my insides to shreds.

I can feel the Ancestors encircling us, crowding us.

Their patient silence is a curtain of darkness.

“Call her,” I plead in a whisper hoarse with crying.

“Her name is Coyote. Call her.”

We know her name, I hear as if in echo.

We know her name, and it is not the one you call her by.

Your gasping cry halts.

Your heart does not.

We are left wrapped in the heavy silence.

 

iv – Dead Air

A friend calls to check on us,

the question kind but exhausting.

“She’s dying,” I say, by way of an update.

I’ve been saying this for weeks now.

I’m not even sure

I know what it means.

 

v – Drum Ceremony

You struggle to be free. I am bitter.

We’d done everything we knew how to do —

opened the Portal for you

with drumming and song, hoping

you would cross quickly, easily.

We mortals with our pretty little faith,

I think darkly, bitterly.

All the while the skin stretches tightly

over the rabbit-like heartbeat

of our desperation.

I gasp; the shock of my blasphemy

leeches the bitterness from my body,

leaving only the desperation.

 

vi – Constancy

You exhale. There is a long pause.

My heart wrestles with guilty hope

and anguished fear.

A beat too long…and you inhale again.

Something breaks in me.

I want to shout at you:

“Let go, dammit! Let go, you stubborn dog!

Why are you torturing me like this?”

I stare at the phone, wanting to make the call

that will end it for you — for me.

Call, my breaking heart begs.

You promised, counters my soul.

I carefully curl around your failing body,

no strength left in my own,

no will left for the argument.

We continue on as we were —

you breathing and not-breathing;

me keeping watch —

my promise upheld

this time

by exhaustion.

 

vii – A Second Visitation

The groaning, barking cries start again.

I sob.

You have heard this sound before,

my dead grandfather whispers.

I raise my head, startled.

“It’s the sound of pain,” I rail at him aloud, my fists clenched

against the memory of his death.

It’s the sound of transition, he tells me gently.

I sink into a heap next to you,

stroking your soft fur, suddenly wondering

if every touch pulls you back,

holds you in stasis.

 

viii – Humility

I wad the towel in my hand.

It’s soaked through

with shit and piss

and green vomit.

I don’t even stand.

I throw it over the porch railing

listening for the weight of its splatter

as it lands on the ground near the bin.

I pause before unfolding myself

to bring fresh towels.

My hubris:

I believed the face of Death

would be familiar to me

simply because I had seen it before.

 

ix – Circle Dance

There’s nothing left to do.

I close my eyes

and turn my face to the Mother Moon,

shining straight-backed and pregnant with death

through the window in my living room.

I pick up my drum, and feel them take their places —

the Council of Ancient Women.

They weave a net out of strands of light

pulled through my skin, from the core of my soul

and begin entwining you in it.

There’s nothing left to do.

I pick up my drum

and dance.

 

x – Into the Light

I find you at first light,

your body stiff and cold —

spent —

your soul released.

And I realize:

For all my striving

all I ever had to do

was let you go.


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Present Tensed

A sweet, gentle rivulet of chiming

wakes me, my morning alarm.

The light is already late.

It creeps into the room,

hoping I won’t notice

the hour.

 

The warmth of the dog

seeps through my thin duvet,

contrasting the cold of the fan-driven air.

I turn and curl around him.

He stretches out along the length

of my body in dreamy response,

his velvety auburn head squirming its way

up onto my pillow

which always makes me chuckle,

in spite of my itchy eyes,

because he’s so sweet in his sleep.

 

A falling pig hickory shatters the quiet

like a gunshot on my roof.

Neither the dog nor I even flinch.

Years of autumns here

have made the sound familiar to us.

He yawns, rolls partway onto his back

and lazily waves a paw so I’ll

reach around and scratch his belly.

 

For so long

I was lost.

I was distracted by the false promise

of a life meted out in milliseconds

and measured in achievements.

I’ve bought into Work Ethic

and Productivity

and The Bottom Line.

I’ve aimed for The Future,

worshipped at the altar

of What’s Next.

 

And I sold it all.

I let it go for the peace of these mornings:

the sweet smell of warm fur,

the flimsy light of dawn gathering itself for breakfast,

the rude drumming of hickory nuts,

the insistent tinkling of my alarm,

 

the slow building of awakening

in the here,

the now.