Calling Them Out
She knows it’s time. Something
in her body or the jug - a night breeze,
the heady air - tells her they must go
now but they lie curled up inside,
cozy and warm, her dark womb
cushions them, safe from the bitter
world outside. They don’t want to leave
and so she calls them out.
She sings to them, to her belly,
crooning gently, her music
wafting out of the barn
across our pasture to the slough
where night birds pause their rustling
to listen, the cottonwoods pregnant
Unable to resist
the first kid stretches his legs,
reaching out tentatively, tests
the route, lured by the siren
of her voice. His nose follows, nuzzling
the darkness of the jug and then -
too late to turn back – shoulders,
rib-cage, hips all
tumble to the straw.
She murmurs thoughtfully,
cleans his face for that first
sweet breath, hums as she works
to dry his coat, consuming the veil
that separated him
And now the others follow,
slipping down, swimming
this blind path into the world –
one, two, three -
and it’s done, her masterpiece,
her symphony, three stanzas
and a poem, the lines
emerge at last full term
to sit - newborn - on the page.
I watch them flying out above the field
late in the day – their long, graceful necks
reaching out, wings moving
in slow syncope, the female
slightly below and ahead of the male.
Their goal is common and beyond my view –
a grain field to the east, perhaps,
or the canal that winds along the edge
of our valley floor. This is what
long-term pair bonding looks like:
they both know where they are headed, and
each knows the other is there
without looking or touching
wings. They just know –
the same way, when you and I
are walking along the canal road
and I reach out my hand,
yours is always there: cool when I’m hot,
warm when I’m cold.
Because she was her dog – that’s what makes it so hard.
His new wife said it should be obvious:
the old dog can hardly walk, let alone
race cars down the fence line like she did
when he and his first wife built their home.
Oh that brown dog had loved her!
Even when she didn’t come home from the float trip
and the dog had helped the man unpack his car
so slowly, inspecting every item as if
his wife might emerge from a dry bag
or cooler. When the car was empty,
the dog waited for days by the gate
for some other car to bring the woman
home. But she didn’t come home. And then
the new wife, a new dog.
She couldn’t warm up to either one but at least
she’d quit waiting, started to eat again,
finally letting go of the past suddenly one day
like he’d let go of the boat for just that second.
They weren’t wearing life jackets. The boat,
swept up on a rock amid the raging river –
“You get out and put on your jacket,” she’d called
out calmly above the roar. “I’ll stay here –
I’m a better swimmer.” And so he had:
climbed out, pulled on his jacket, turned around
and she was gone. No call for help,
no wave goodbye, just gone - letting him
go on home, back to the dog
and the empty house. Now
he has to let go again, this time
of the brown dog with the frozen spine
who drags herself from her bed to his chair
every morning, her amber eyes so full of trust.
He knows he should, but he’s just not sure
he can let go a second time.