Henry David Thoreau once wrote that “the poem of the world is uninterrupted.” How true that is. And yet, like every other bit of poetry, the poem of the world has its endings, with each line and each stanza braking for the next, each a whole world of beginnings and endings, for the poem of the world overflows with beginnings and endings, each sentence and each stanza ripe with untold starts and stops. And while the beginnings cannot exist without their endings, and while the poem itself cannot exist or move forward without both, often it is the endings that give us pause, that catch our breath, that force us to face what we’ve just read, what we’ve just experienced. Still, the poem of the world is uninterrupted no matter how much it feels otherwise when we reach one of those endings…
He lay quietly, wrapped in my shirt, cradled gently in my arms as a father would hold a child. Staying my own trembles required more effort than I imagined existed in all the world, yet I prevailed. No amount of weakness borne of anguish could overcome my desire to see him tended. I would not fail him.
Whispers of my love danced from my lips until they fell upon his ears in quiet so profound it beckoned the universe to hush so it might hear me. My hands moved nimbly over his fur in strokes of passion deep and heartfelt. Beneath my soft caress his body trembled slightly, weakly, a strain against my embrace in defiance of what was to come. I knew no creature could survive what he faced, no body could withstand it. I knew he was dying.
I leaned my face close to his in that way I often did, and I gently spoke to him, halting abruptly only to listen as he feebly whimpered. His weakening breath softly brushed my face. It was like a kiss to me, and it engendered a tear that fell just beyond his neck and landed on the tattered cloth of a shirt I would never wear again. Briefly, my eyes fixated on the darkness it created there, a small and insignificant spot of salt water, and I stared at it absently.
His trembles became weaker still and I shifted my focus back to his small face. Eyes bright as stars on a moonless night stared back at me, a loving gaze that washed over my face and seemed to push the air out of the room. I wanted to bathe in it, to wash my whole body in that scrutiny. And yet I knew I would never see it outside the harshly lit room in which we stood. Too much had happened; too many pains had befallen such a small soul.
Racked by guiltless longing for what could never be, I leaned ever closer to his face and kissed him gently through my own growing sobs. He needn’t worry for me, needn’t add my own trepidation to his own, so I struggled against the lamentations welling up within my essence and denied them voice. It had to be his time, his moment, his wisp of the cosmos defined in a sterile room tucked away in cheap offers of peace. I would not fail him.
So I snuggled him closely and let his waning pants lick my cheeks, my nose, my lips in vast smallness only he could define. Their flavor slipped from me, grew increasingly distant. I wanted to take within my own flesh all the suffering and pain he felt.
Was there no offering I could make by which to trade places with him? Was there no hope of granting his flesh a part of the life I still carried?
As he slipped away, I inhaled his final essence, the last breathing from a suddenly lifeless body, and into me I took it with force and selfishness. I would hold my breath for the rest of my life if it meant I could keep that part of him with me always.
Finally streams of sorrow marched down my cheeks and fell around his halo-lit countenance. Letting him go was not an option. I would rend my heart upon the same shirt in which he was wrapped, cast it upon the floor holding up my feet, and all if it meant just one more moment, one more cry, one more touch from a life taken too soon.
So cries this love. So weeps this season of hollow.
September 1998 – July 2011
A morning kiss, a discreet touch of his nose
landing somewhere on the middle of my face.
Because his long whiskers tickled,
I began every day laughing.
— Janet F. Faure