My children’s other grandfather is dying from his fourth attack of cancer. Tumors like softballs stud his chest and torso. Prior cancers removed his lower jaw and all but a thin fold of vocal cord. Family group texts to my children kept me informed of his worsening condition and of the many tender family visits from his eight children and thirty-six grandchildren and twenty-eight great-grandchildren. Though I have not been his son-in-law for six years, I love and respect the man, and I knew it would be right for me to say good-bye. Sitting at his bedside, we fist-bumped and we talked and reminisced and we shared our hopes for our families’ futures. He expressed his love and admiration for my seven wonderful children. I conveyed Mom’s and Dad’s expression of love and admiration and respect—“Right back at ‘em,” he chimed. He told me stories of his early life, like when he was a little boy and he and his cousins laid on their grandmother’s down-tic mattress listening to her tell stories of their Mormon pioneer ancestors. “She was barely 4-foot 10-inches tall,” he marveled. “We loved her. But you didn’t want to make her mad!” like when the children tried to ride the sheep. When I asked what he most looked forward to on the other side, he listed reunions with his father, Charles, who died by train in the shunting yard in 1961, and his mother, Jessie, who died of a stroke the year I married (1988), and many other family members, like his brother Kay, who died of the hardships of homelessness. I told him I felt very sorry that things had not worked out for his daughter and me, but that I loved him. “You are family,” he assured me in exhausted whispers, “and I love you.” He squeezed my hand hard, then let me know he was so tired and needed to sleep for a while. He stopped eating five days ago—he made it to March 1—everyone has said good-bye—I have said good-bye and god speed.
Life was about to begin for me when on a TWA jet I poked tentatively at the soft walls of the tight round room of my mother’s womb. And after quick-passing days she deu à luz (gave the light) to me. Fifty years later life ended. Books describe divorce as a kind of death, for its permanence and its depth of loss and grief, and perhaps Continue reading
–Wow, Caleb, you have lots of brains.–
–No, I don’t! I only have one brain!–
–I mean, you have lots of sense.–
— I don’t have any cents, only three pennies.–
(Caleb-3 with Laura)
“I hate it when things die!” Erin (7) sobbed bitterly.
I have tried to teach the children not to hate because hating makes you feel hateful. But I understood her sentiment: her pet goat had died. She didn’t want to feel the deep grief of the loss of things loved.
“We never even gave him a name,” she lamented. “We just named him Goatie.” Continue reading
I found myself the last person in the courtroom, still sitting at counsel table after a rogue jury delivered a $22 million verdict against my client in a $7 million dollar case. How could this have happened? It was so wrong. In this the greatest legal system in the world, truth had not prevailed. This moment of courtroom despair triggered the still poignant memory of when, 15 years earlier, another jury acquitted the man who had murdered his wife and three children. I thought of their voices, silenced and unable to tell their story, to speak the truth, to persuade the jury. I wrote this poem alone in the courtroom to honor their voices and their lives. It was my 45th birthday.
She lies, undressed,
on the shining steel table,
her voice mute as the metal,
white skin washed clean of red
blood that once ran warm.
Bloodless wounds tell her story
to the inquiring examiner. But
the story of the living spoke
louder than the tale of the dead,
and the jury acquitted her killer,
the man who once said “I do”
and slipped a gold band on her finger.
Her white flesh lies cold
on the steel, her black hair flowing
over the edge toward the floor,
hair that hides where
the hammer crushed her skull.
Her screams have fled
into walls, into paint and plaster.
Her sobs have dripped, drowning,
into shag, soaked
into plywood and joists.
They would tell her sad story
to any who would listen, but
the living spoke louder than the dead.
The deaths of dear pets have hurt my children’s tender feelings many times over as many years. The sad fact is: pets die. Sometimes from neglect; sometimes from sickness; sometimes from old age. From tiny hamsters to guinea pigs, and from chickens to full-sized goats, each death raised in the children’s innocent minds anew the questions of why things die, and why did their heart have to hurt so much when saying good-bye to friends. I grieved for them and with them as they grieved their losses. The day one of our pet goats died, Erin and Laura cried and cried. I didn’t know how to comfort them. But I stayed with them and talked with them and did my best to sooth them. I wrote this poem about the occasion. It isn’t a great poem, but it expresses poetically the bitter-sweet experience of losing our pet goat. You can read more about our pet goats in Chapter 13: Of Goats and a Pot-Bellied Pig post in the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog.
OUR PET GOAT DIED TODAY
Our pet goat died today.
We noticed he was sick:
gasping for breath;
struggling to raise his head off the ground.
Big hands placed him in the November sun;
little hands rubbed him warm,
coaxed him to suck from the bottle, but he wouldn’t, or he couldn’t.
Then he was dead.
He was our friend, and he was gone.
I held him and gathered my little children close around,
where they wept as death and loss seeped into their reality:
“I don’t want him to die,” they sobbed.
“I’m sad too,” I said.
Daughters chose the burial place,
near Diamond, last Spring’s kitten.
Father and son dug deep in the hard clay.
Old chicken straw made a bed and a pillow and a blanket,
to keep our goat warm and comfortable
in his resting place.
Fall’s last roses placed around his head
would bring him pleasant smells in Winter.
A child’s graveside prayer,
trusting an unseen wonder,
would protect the goat and comfort their sad hearts.
“Daddy, where do goats go when they die?” they asked,
knowing that I would know the answer.
I looked in my heart for sweetness and truth:
“I’m sure God loves goats just like he loves people, so goats must go to heaven.”
Through tears they asked hopefully, “Will we see him again?”
“I hope so,” I said. Then, “Yes, I’m sure we will.”
Worried at the thought of the goat covered with earth, they asked,
“What will happen to his body when he’s buried?”
“This is the goat’s resting place, and you have made it very special
with your flowers and prayers.
He will just rest here awhile.”
One last scratch on his nose to say good-bye.
My son works to fill the hole.
My daughters gently place the reddest rose petals on the mound.
Then they run off to play,
and I hear the scared bleating of a lonely goat.
–The measure of one’s greatness is one’s goodness.–
Sitting on the porch lacing my boots for a walk on Rabbit Lane, I heard the distant bellowing of a distressed calf. Something in the bray was not quite right, sounded a little off. I had heard lost calves calling for their mothers before. I had heard desperately hungry calves complaining before. I had heard lonely wiener calves bellowing for their removed mothers before. This calf call sounded strange; perhaps, I thought, not even a calf at all. I turned my head to pinpoint the source of the noise. It came from behind Austin’s house, where there should be no cows and, in fact, were no cows. An ignorant urgency sent me running through the intervening field to Austin’s back door. There lay Austin, helpless, in abject distress, fallen across the threshold of his back door and unable to arise, the screen door pressing upon his legs. He shouted and bellowed with his deep and distressed bass voice. I wrapped my arms around his prodigious barrel chest and heaved as gently yet as forcefully as I could to raise the big man from the ground. Continue reading