My dog Brando, born in April 1996, died today, May 19, in the early morning hours as I slept next to him.
He was Mary's dog ("Our little boy," she would say), but I inherited him when she passed away in 2001. When I woke up, his snout was turned toward me, touching one of my thighs, as was usual for him: I think he felt reassured that he could feel my body next to his as we slept. Mary got him used to sleeping with us, though I think he preferred to sleep next to me: Mary's chronic respiratory condition would cause her to toss while she slept--Brando knew if I moved it was rare and, for some reason, I was always aware of his position in bed as I slept (though I didn't realize he had died until I woke up this morning).
The late poet William Matthews wrote about the death of a dog in the poem "Loyal": At one point, the speaker notes that he wants to weep "steadily, like an adult, according to the fiction that there is work to be done, and almost inconsolably."
I too want to weep, and not so much for Brando but for myself, for he--and his kin--gave the kind of love few humans can come close to equaling: total love despite the flaws of the loved one.
In my chapbook Braille for the Heart, one of the poems is about Brando. I post it here for the twelve-pound wonder who championed love above all else, who now plays with Mary for eternity--and I feel happy for him and for her.
The Myth of the Happy Family: Canine
If my sick self mumbles a prayer,
a faint adagio of
faith might twitch Brando's
donkey-like ears: If dogs tune in earth-
quakes and Spielberg's alien
Edsels, they can sniff
out God's pizza-bearing messengers
who trod the piss-claimed pathways
of the Village Green
Apartments. No tenant knows what sin
might doom him, but Brando's safe;
he'll respond to that
overdue horn blast with a scrolled turd,
mount the blond neighbor's bitch, and
nose into a bowl
of sleep. For no other beast offers
his broad, out of kilter ribs
to me like Brando;
he'll sidle up like a movie star
and shimmy and pant for that
stark bone of love some
people pocket or misplace or lose
altogether. If grace knocks
like rain, if the first
twister of judgment careens like a
Kearney Bowl modified hard-
top in mud, Brando
will likely yawn, yelp, or pass his own
impolite wind as roofs bloom
and human ledgers
vermilion the flesh-spent vale--it's all
explained with a biblical
blink. And in the Book
of Canine, the sequel stars an in-
ept burglar, his jimmied doors
(as foretold) paw-marked.