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
vii – A Second Visitation
The groaning, barking cries start again.
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.
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
x – Into the Light
I find you at first light,
your body stiff and cold —
your soul released.
And I realize:
For all my striving
all I ever had to do
was let you go.