No Lapse of Moons

Winnie-the-Pooh and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Among a plethora of poets, these two stand out in framing what the “bear of very little brain”–and so much heart–understood as the exquisitely lacerating inseparability of love and grief once the one we love is no longer within reach of our suddenly achingly restrictive five senses.

“How lucky I am,” pondered Winnie-the-Pooh, “to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

(My bear friend did not mean a permanent goodbye. . . but then, neither do I.)

Tis a fearful thing/to love what death can touch.”

A Fearful and Beautiful Thing,” although that amalgamation may not fully emerge until separation.

Love as catastrophic good fortune.

How lucky I was.

A hand that can be clasp’d no more
Behold me, for I cannot sleep,
And like a guilty thing I creep
At earliest morning to the door.

When I rise, now in the supreme desolation of heading out without my beloved last beagle, Rufus–whose preternatural judgment-free listening skills remained undiminished even in the abject deafness of his antiquity–whenever possible I first make my way to the empty edges of the world in which I still tread.

Such vast spaces used to be the stuff of my worst fears, as may be true for many of us smallish sentient beings.

Now I am compulsively drawn to those landscapes without end, where gold-plum cloudscapes overcome the divide with earth, “our heaven, for a while.”

Where the moon still ceaselessly circles, and the sun dependably arrives even when concealed by a bank of bruised blue.

A fearful and beautiful thing.

 

 

 

 

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Autumn’s Impalpable Ash

 

if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

No one, but no one–with the possible lyrical co-equal of Lin-Manuel Miranda–writes love like Pablo Neruda.

No preposition necessary: it’s not that he wrote “of” love.  His words are indistinguishable from the emotion itself.

Both the flames and their lingering ash.

Sultry summer’s torrent and autumn’s cool unrolling.

The smooth, icy crystal moon and the log’s wrinkled body.

Both the song and after.

Every sense, every moment, carrying us forward and ceaselessly back, to and from those we love and have loved.

Hard butterscotch candies, wrapped tightly in red-gold cellophane twisted at both ends, carrying a hint of the scent of the soft saffron leather handbag from which my grandmother would fish out and present us with her signature treat.  Grandma Jackie’s cheese triangles, fresh August tomatoes, tiny rosemary branches.  Purple cauliflower on a boat at the equator.  A final taste of lemon on a mint-green swab.

The sweet rose soap which we used to wash our hands in the same hospital room where we stayed with four newborn babies.  Other hospitals, emergency rooms, stifling heat and hospital smells, bitterly bleached linen.

Voices I can still hear long after they fell silent.  My father’s unique pauses, now echoed in my eldest, as he translated the unseen universe for us liberal arts types.  My friend’s mother’s Dutch-accented English.  The lost laughs of sons before their voices grew deep and, at least for a time, it seemed impossible to laugh.  My own voice when it faltered.  My husband’s voice, as it never did, still greeting calls to two of our children’s phones.

How it felt to hold the hands of now grown children.  The aching absence of the strong hand that held a gold wedding band until it went on a chain around my neck.

The things we carry often aren’t things at all.

 

 

 

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Riding With the King

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Clarabelle, a stunning white-blonde, regally roamed a large enclosure on the right.

An Australian Shepard, she may have been in search of subjects to herd.

An insanely yippy Jack Russell terrier was barely contained within his own barred space on the second tier of corner crates.

Clearly not a satisfied prisoner of circumstance.

Needs attention, does not get along with other animals or young children,” his card unsurprisingly read.

Between the arc of spittle punctuating Jack’s non-stop shrieking yaps and the lure of the puppy window diagonally across from him, it would not have been hard for visitors to miss the no-longer-quite-a-puppy beagle who soundlessly pressed himself against the back wall.

Rufus.

1 1/2 – 2 yrs, trained, responds to his name.

My youngest daughter and my husband spearheaded the ensuing negotiations and sequential visits to get all family members on board with our first adoption.  Every time Rufus haltingly padded out to meet one of us, he did the same thing: he waited for us to slowly approach, then promptly rolled over on his back to await a belly rub that dissolved his anxiety.

He would close his eyes and point his quivering nose to the heavens with a smile of pure contentment, transformed from a beleaguered rescue trucked all the way from Indiana into Snoopy, dancing outside in a field of pure green.

Rufus.

King of Belly Rubs.

******

 

 

Rufus’s sixteenth birthday would fall later this month.  His tri-colors faded to a more even coffee-with-extra cream and he was completely deaf, but I talked to him nonetheless, both because he was my most constant companion and because he had so many listening skills beyond  hearing.  What an extraordinary listener he was.

Even as he began to give signals that something more than sheer antiquity was amiss, he never missed a walk.  During the recent heat wave he still tugged, with improbable force for twenty-some vintage pounds, to go farther than halfway as far as he could go .  I had to twice cradle and carry him home.

These past few weeks I had talked to him about his human dad and his later-adopted little brother, Brady, whom he loved and has missed so much and whose bright traces he never stopped searching for.

Remember when you used to run away when we first got you? 

He would pause our walk and glance up at me.  Of course I remember, mom.

He adored riding in my husband Jim’s rust-mottled white pickup truck, nose to the open air, ears aflutter.

He was such an escape artist that he once managed to extricate himself through a sliver of space when Jim parked off a busy road, and Rufus made a break for the hills of Stratham, New Hampshire.

Remember the time you ran away by the farm and I  panicked and yelled for you to come back and you kept running and I was sure we’d never see you again–and then master put his hand on my shoulder and dropped down to one knee and calmly called your name and then you stopped running and looked back over your shoulder and you saw him holding his arms out?  And you started running  back to him?

I can still see them both, Jim enfolding young Rufus in his arms and holding him against his own still-beating heart.

I don’t think Rufus ever ran away from Jim again.

But he would run with Jim, and when we adopted sweet Brady the two best buddies would enter nirvana every time Jim sat to put on his running shoes.  They eagerly waited, white-tipped tails swishing on the slate floor, until he grabbed the leash.  Off they ran, up the hill from where our home nestled at the town green.

When  our son’s Boy Scout troop–one in which Jim was an enthusiastic and dedicated Scoutmaster–learned of Jim’s diagnosis, they organized a gathering and presented him with a hand-drawn flag of special design: You can do this, it urged, underneath a drawing of him and the beagle boys running up the hill by our home where he made his daily run.

Someday, I would tell Rufus, looking away so he wouldn’t see me cry, you’re going to see master again, and you’re going to see Brady, and you’re going to want to run with Brady and you’ll be able to run anywhere you want.  But every once and a while you should look back for master because he’s missed you, too.

******

 

 

On what I did not know would be our second-to-last walk, Rufus took me only to the midpoint of a short jaunt.  He initiated a meet-and-greet with a weeks-old foster puppy named Delta, who eagerly nuzzled him with her bright mahogany head, which bobbed atop a pure white body that seemed to vibrate with the joy of being outside and about and finding a friend.

After that, Delta bounced happily along and Rufus stepped into the shade of a suddenly-bloomed plant, bright magenta and violet buds arcing rakishly over one velvet ear, like a fascinator at a royal wedding.  He paused and looked up at me and waited expectantly.  Of course, he knew I’d want to take some pictures of him.  He was very patient that way.

Then he inexplicably looked up and away, directly into the sun, and stretched.  It had the opposite trajectory of a downward dog pose; it was as if he were being gently lifted by his front paws.

And he smiled.  I swear he smiled.

I looked in the direction where his deep brown eyes seemed to have settled, but it was far too bright. Rufus nuzzled me just under my knee and canted his head back towards the house.  He ordinarily resisted turning around so quickly.  “It’s OK, mom.  I’m good now.  I’ll be OK.”  

******

When Rufus looked for all this world as if he were just sleeping I whispered in his ear, because I knew he could hear again now, that Brady must be so happy to see him again, but every now and then he should not forget to look back over his shoulder.

 

 

 

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The Lady in Orange

 

 

I leaned against a cement pillar.

The sun was high and heavy and far too bright.

The woman who came over to me wore a vivid orange shift dress.

This near stranger, who had led us into the surgeon’s office where we heard the diagnosis, was no doubt leaving the hospital to go home after a long day.   Instead, when she saw me outside, leaning against the pillar in the awful heat as Jim waited for another scan, she came over, wrapped her arms around me, and let me wordlessly weep into the bright linen on her shoulder.

******

Today, exactly nine years later, I had not realized that the keynote address at my conference would be about trauma in surviving victims of violent crime.  It can reorder the brain and alter the consolidation of memory.  Time may be rearranged.  Some images may forever be indelible; other pieces may eternally be missing, never having formed, leaving disordered space like like the indeterminate bokeh beyond a sharply-focused photographic image.

The speaker paused.  “So, what’s the essence of trauma?  What is trauma?”  For a room full of lawyers it was uncharacteristically quiet.  “I’m willing to wait.”

Not one to leave a void, my right hand flickered.

“It’s the violation of expectations, something you don’t see coming and can’t prevent.”

She nodded, as if reading my mind.

******

I used to cling eagerly to dreams Jim visited, alive and healthy, sometimes a young college student again, though never any older.  Envisioning him at an age he never reached seems beyond the power of imagination.

But early this morning–so early as to be deepest night for anyone else–I awoke from a nightmare I did not understand until hours later, when I noticed the date.

My dream was of imagined calamities, all of them my own doing.  I steered obliviously backward, veering off a sand bar into the ocean, endangering three of my children who sat quietly in back.  In the next scene I drove furiously in the wrong direction on a highway, yet was aggrieved at the other drivers innocently in my way.  Then I was back by a beach, in the driver’s seat (of the car I’ve in fact quite safely put well over 120,000 miles on) when I saw Jim walking on a jagged cliff edge, weighed down by a bright green backpack.  I eagerly called out to him.

He looked at me in a way he never had, abjectly disappointed, and said words he never would have said, in a tone he was incapable of using: “Why would I want to go with someone who can’t even drive?”

I tried to shake off the dream, tended to my now lone beagle, left the house and turned on the car radio.

On came “Last Kiss.”

“Oh where, oh where can my baby be?”

That’s when I considered the date.  And reconsidered the dream.

In the yawning space between that June 28th and this one my focus has remained  disordered: I see the blurred blanket of disruptions and mistakes, and think not that Jim would, but that he should be disappointed in me, though I know he was never disappointed in me when he was here.  I miss that, too: how lucky I was to spend my adult life with someone who always saw in me the best person I was capable of being.

He would have wanted me to bring the other pieces into focus.

Like the strength and warmth of his hand holding mine as we first walked inside the hospital, when he must already have known what we would hear.

The buoyant tiger lilies, which arrived earlier that year, backlit by sun, tickling our legs as we brushed past a stone bench with a carved cherub on our way inside.

And the kindness of the woman in the orange dress.

 

 

 

 

 

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