This is a poem I wrote back in 2005, for my Hearing dog Willow:
THE REST OF ME
Sometimes when I am away,
I find myself longing for you like a lover.
I want to bend your ears,
feel the pads of your feet pushing against my thighs.
You lick tears before they even come.
You sit close to me when I am
stuck in bed with bodily aches.
And you know the greatest medicine of all
is your head, resting heavy,
across my stomach.
Instead I am sitting on a jagged gray rock,
the wind trying to steal my hair
or these pages.
Pulling at me as you have done.
I am here because I can fly.
I can put an ocean between us and
you are left, staring
into the sea from the other side.
While on Commenole Beach in Ireland, I hold
handfuls of sand in my fists because
it is the color of your fur.
In the deep brown of your eyes,
widely searching my own, I see—my body:
the home you guard with the passion
of twenty panting lovers. Your tail: pumping
like a heartbeat.
But I call you
as I’m supposed to.
I call you by your given name. Though
when I write such words to myself,
such prayers, I call you—
And I know you as
The Rest of Me.
I spent all of Willow’s life leaving and returning to him often, because I couldn’t be without a dog and I couldn’t stop traveling either. My parents, who always had dogs, gratefully accepted Willow as their grandson and always took care of him while I was in India or Kenya or Ireland for months at a time.
When Willow died last year, on August 1st, I felt myself adding up all the months I spent away from him. It broke my heart that out of his almost 11 years, I spent a total of 2.5 of them away from him. Now I’m more understanding of my own needs. I need a Hearing dog, I need that companionship and the social comfort they give me, but I also need to immerse myself in other cultures.
I’ve come to understand that it’s okay for our dogs to be shared between us—that only means they have more people that love them, and more people they can love in return.
I have more to say about Hearing dogs, and dogs, but I’d like to keep this post a dedication to Willow, the greatest dog that ever lived, who will always be “the rest of me.”
I’ll never stop longing for him, I’ll never stop feeling the shadow of his fur against my legs when I run, and I’ll never stop seeing his face between the trees of a forest, or popping up over the marshes, eyes on fire.
I suppose there are worse things to be haunted by.