This poem is written from the perspective of my daughter, Laura (then 9), who lost her special duck Wingers to marauding dogs. Other beloved creatures succumbed, like her kitten, Diamond. Laura and I somberly buried each in the garden, resting them on beds of green grass, and covering them with loosely sprinkled rose petals. Each funeral was tender, both sad and sweet.
SPRINKLED WITH ROSE PETALS
Wingers was my special duck.
I raised her from a day-old chick.
But she died when the neighbor’s dogs roved over
In the middle of the night.
Diamond was my precious kitten.
I watched her being born.
I stroked her fur when she lay sick.
I gently stroked her fur.
I found a yellow-breasted song bird:
Her feathers scattered on the grass;
Her wings stretched out;
Her beak upturned, eyes staring at the sky.
I laid them all in garden graves,
On beds of soft, cool grass,
Wrapped in soft, white cloth.
I sprinkled them with rose petals,
Red and pink and white.
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.