It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Walking my dog has become a perverted benediction. Ch. The Cat’s Black Magic, either fifteen or one hundred and six years of age, currently presides over each day from a five-yard radius, which he cannot help but mark as his own.
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
Four months ago, he and I jaunted through a hilly four-mile hike. Two months ago, we panted through the same. Three weeks ago, we picked our way around a small park’s perimeter, both lying in the grass as we saw fit. Yesterday, we covered two hundred yards in twenty minutes. He would strive to lift himself off the ground, succeeding with all but his hindquarters; I would reach in and swing his haunches back. He would tentatively pluck his way forward; I would shorten his leash. He would get excited and pick up speed; I would trot in an anticipatory panic. He presses on with his front legs, dragging his back; I scamper behind and place his pads on cement. He perseveres, despite the tops of his back feet bleeding; I moan in nervous empathy, torn between a friend’s desire to see another happy and a mother/child’s horrorheartbreak at the headstrong carnage.
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and setting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars,
Remarkable to me is his unflagging curiosity. He has a limited shared language with his loved ones, possibly no world-ordering theories, limited research ability and resources, and few peers with whom to share his findings. And yet! His ears are always perked, his milky, myopic eyes do see, and he holds his head and nose high, despite his inability to put two feet behind the others. At nearly every fall, he does not rest, but does pursue an alert respite, continuously surveying any air he can wrap around his wet nose. Despite failing every three yards, he refuses to capitulate to indolence or apathy, and keeps sniffing, sniffing, those glorious aromas only he and his kind can discern — and, by his kind, I mean those uniquely and inevitably deprived of most other senses, who now cherish this one in their waning days. This one sense, scent, that has not betrayed them. This one sense, scent, that patiently abided for over a decade, content to toil in concert with hearing and sight. This sense, scent, which now is left nearly alone with its staunch, less glamorous, more comforting, most cordial sense, touch.
Souls that have toil’d, and wraught, and thought with me —
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
He is the sibling I’ve never had, the partner I’ve always wanted; the child in whom I have no interest, the grandparent about whom I feel no guilt. He has been a rug and a pillow, a mirror and an audience, a playmate and a challenger, a ghost and all hope. He has trusted unflaggingly, understood almost always, and abided for all my Waking Life. Society doesn’t allow me to say I’ve loved him more fully than any other, but I suspect it does understand.
Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness
Throughout a lonely life, in a house that was never a home, he was, he is, what compels the prodigal’s return. What home will I know on August 7th?
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come,
He knows. You could see that he knows. What instinct, what acceptance do the rest of us ignore, in our trappings of projected postmortem, our self-imposed future judgment, our self-denying Botox and community-denying pacemakers? How much does our hypothetical, maniacal, unknowable fear smooth our society’s lubricant; how well would we be if we ever learned to respect the inevitable? He knows. He does not rush, but he knows. He does not betray fear, but he does know.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven;
When I lower my head to his, he blesses my lips with his own, reserving the exuberant nips that used to coerce me into hiding my love. He knows we all know and presides over us all, dignified despite his bald back, his cloudy corneas, his uncooperative limbs, his urine-stained belly. Whom else would we allow to be so regal despite this maudlin aesthetic?
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
One may deem it distasteful that I grieve more now than I did after my father, but finding fault here betrays that one does not know how comforting, how closure-inducing, common, loquacious language truly is. Realizing that this world may not allow me to grieve fully has sent my grief into preemptive overdrive, churning out all the heartache I will be denied and paying it forward in short walks, belly rubs, hysteria, tears, snout scratching, crackers, kisses, coos, conversations, and car rides.
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle —