A good friend recently lost her beloved dog mostly to the ravages of old age. Having gone through that three times myself I know how impossibly hard it is to say goodbye to a dog who has been your best friend for more than a decade.
When we lost the first of our three retrievers, I wrote this poem, which was eventually published in The Pisgah Review. This is for my friend who’s grief is still so very fresh.
HOW TO BURY A DOG
First, let sorrow fill you ‘til
you have to break the earth—
have to dig a deep hole where
grief can go when it falls
like sweat and tears.
Pile the dirt high to one side,
shovels full of wishes, rich
and sticky, clay soil and humus.
Look out for rocks and roots.
Rocks sit heavy, block progress,
make it hard to swallow—best
toss them in the weeds and go on.
Roots are trickier, growing deep
and wide—when you pull, they
just keep coming, memory tied
to memory tied to longing.
Sometimes you have to cut
these off sharp, leave them buried.
Dig deep, make sure you give
grief plenty of room and square
the corners for clarity, know that
sadness has its edges, too.
Now the easy part is done.
You will think that you can bury
the sorrow that has been pouring
into this raw place, but
you are only planting, only
covering over the seeds of sadness.
Pat loose dirt down over your grief—
do not try to hide the obvious—
and spend some time examining
what you have done.
Place smooth, worn stones all around,
arrange them for long walks, naps,
rawhide bones and silky ears.
For muddy feet and rides in cars.
They will stay here for a long, long time.
If you have done your work well,
you will find sorrow’s winter crust
pierced by something like peace,
something like contentment.
And then one day, joy will push soft,
purple petals into the light.