Walking the Dog

A week ago our beloved 7-year old golden retriever Ginny seemed in perfect health.  Today our vet confirmed that the lumps we found at her throat midweek are from canine lymphoma.  She may not live out the Summer.  Our shock and heartbreak may seem silly to you, unless your life has been enriched and in some ways saved by a dog, as ours have.  A couple weeks ago, before all this went down, I wrote a poem for Ginny that seems sadly prescient now, though the “best of all possible futures” cited there will not happen for her.  I’m sharing it here for what it’s worth.  It’s called “Walking the Dog”.

Ginny
our gentle golden
and I walk off-leash
in the band of woods
along a knoll
by the grade school
our boys attended:
thus Crestwood.

We drove over.
She sat upright
on a towel on
Stephen’s seat
in the mini-van,
nose divining rod
dipping out
the window.

Eager, probably
wishing I’d drive faster,
if gentle goldens even
think like that — just
to race for squirrels
beneath that copse
of oaks then chase
a tennis ball and
bring it sopping
back to me!

Ginny squats just inside
the tree line, beside not on
the trail, then bounds ahead
tail high and wagging:
Who knows what our walk
may bring? A squirrel, a deer,
once tortoises mating, his
chest plate flat and scraping
her helmeted back,
reptilian paws squirming
for purchase and she
seeming to smile patiently
allowing the one thrusting
intrusion her armor
would ever allow.  We
animals — how alien
to each other yet how much
in our yearning alike!

Or that other time
Ginny came bolting back
tail between her legs
because behind her loped
at twenty paces
in no special hurry
a coyote bony
as the wily cartoon
in chilling pursuit
her cousin – what all dogs
would be, I guess,
without us.

Most days it’s just
a trudge I hardly register.
She romps ahead then
waits on her haunches
my guide and example
wondering why he can’t seem
to forget himself for one minute.
I mean, how much better to
nose about, to sniff the riches,
all the variants from yesterday’s
adventure, oh here, see this
dead branch has fallen!

Begrudge an hour after work.
Let the girl off leash to run,
let me off keyboard to stroll,
and stretch our legs.
Big deal.

Exactly. Because
in the best of all possible
futures – we have just
4 or 5 short human years
before this will be too much
for her. Her fluffy coat
thinned, her muzzle grizzled
and yes how I will cry
that day we lay
her ashes here.

Because then you know
all these mundane walks
that mean nothing
but catching the air
will rise past goals and
objectives and balanced
books to strike me
hard across the face.

While all I fret over, my
schemes and worry my
grudges and drudgery
add up to less
than that cobweb
brushing my cheek back
when Ginny’s tongue lolled
so giddily on her frolic
ahead on a woodsy
lane and oh too late
I hear it now the world
at my knee said, woof.