Ruff Month

It’s been a rough month

Our resident wolf,
ambassador of love,
felled by his own heart,
laid his life down
at the feet of Kwan Yin

My mother died…
center stage
more than the girl in her
ever dreamed

My daughter
draggled home
her heart in her knapsack
in two or three pieces
"Mommy!" she says

I have a cancer
intending on ending
but for
an educated knife

Every hour repeats,
our beloved dog died,
left us bereft
of wildness,
bewildered by the quiet
of a hollow house

There is no tendon in the heart,
nothing to tweak history
into poetic justice;
no connective tissue
bending love into longevity;
and no good dog goes to heaven

(this is his last lecture)
You are who you are;
a bone is a bone;
a heart is a heart.
Farewell, fairest moment
I loved you

How It All Began

The cancer saga began the night I tripped over Major in the dark.

The cancer itself had apparently begun years earlier, but I had no idea of that.

Major and I were watching a movie on the computer, in the dark. I paused the movie to head for the bathroom, unaware that Major had shifted from his usual spot on his 60-inch round cushion to a conveniently nearby place on the thin but fine carpet or our living room. Looking back, I can guess why: it was a little cooler there, and even in the winter, he sometimes felt hot and bothered by heart palpitations.

One hundred forty pounds of black dog in a dark room, straddling the path to the bathroom and being very quiet about it, is a recipe for disaster. Major never lay in that spot again, for he learned his lesson when his Pack Leader tripped on him and couldn’t recover her balance.

Halfway down, I met the elephant-headed coffee table coming up. There was a split-second contest of solids, shoulder to solid wood. The coffee table won. Major and I lay on the floor and moaned for a while, I more than he, until the pain in various parts of our anatomies subsided. Then he moved back to the cushion and I carried on to the bathroom.

The right shoulder and arm, injured in a fall twenty years ago, would not shut up. For months it bitched and complained about how tough life was: why me, why me again, why do I have to do everything with this pain? It tried to devlop frozen shoulder but couldn’t quite achieve that spectacular level of dysfunction; but it significantly cut down on typing and opening jars and lugging things around–not to mention the times I woke in agony because the damned thing had slipped off the pillows used to elevate it at night.

In three months, no improvement happened. Slelep patterns were now seriously impaired. Then an email arrived from my GP: "Haven’t seen you in a year; get in here for a check-up, Old Thing."

At last, I thought, some usefulness to these blasted check-ups! I can get some attention for this arm.

I don’t dislike or fear the medical establishment, mind you. I just don’t use it much. I take no medicine, have no chronic complaints, and try to handle life in a primate body for the most part by treating it right with nutrition, rest and motion. A little self-examination, research, and reflection helps, too. And I’d much rather use the complementary medical system than the allopathic, where possible. But my right arm was not responding to any of that airy-fairy stuff.

Off I went, looking forward to some help with the damned arm. Major wished me luck from the back seat of the car, which I was down to driving with my left arm only.

Fifteen minutes later I was back. Nothing for the arm and a poop test in my hand. What the…?

My dear doc wouldn’t discuss the arm. That’s because, I suppose, if a patient comes in for a check-up, the doc gets paid for only a check-up. If anything specific is bothering the patient, he or she can come back fro a new appointment, so that the doctor can get paid.

Wish I could do that with my clients, I thought.

The poop test was for colon cancer. A new test that catches it early. Easy to do. The doc is giving these out like candy. There’s a grant, apparently, for running these tests on old sods like me–for "the program".

"I’m not the cancer type," I protested, fending it off. "My heart will take me out. You know that old saying (actually a newish saying), ‘Look at your mother; look at your father. Whom do you resemble? There is your fate.’ Well, I resemble my father, who died of a single heart attack at 67, and age which, seeing as it is only 5 years from now in the lifetime of this ape, is probably a much more crucial an issue."

The doc paid no attention to my hardwon homespun wisdom. She stuffed the poop test somewhere in the junk I carry around with me. I stood in the parking lot, looking at the promotional picture that goes with this test, of a bare-assed older couple–their buns neatly blocked out by a slogan like "Hindsight is perfect", and considered tossing the paraphernalia. Then I remembered research projects I had done, and how I felt when my subjects mislaid, misunderstood, or forgot.

Okay, okay…I’d get around to it one of these days.

Sad, sad day

My dear one is gone. Yesterday was a fine day for him, his last, but none of us knew that. Tonight, no one will turn around three times before sinking down on his middle-eastern rug and sheepskins beside my bed, with a contented sigh, waiting for me to say, "You are the best wolf in the world; you are the best dog who ever lived; I love you so-o much…." No-one to cuddle with, to entrain with, to appreciate. No thick black fur to work my fingers into, no velvet ears to pull ever so gently, no silver paws to kiss and admire. No deep, furry white-blazed chest to massage. no tummy to rub, no noggin to tease with with the "knock on wood" knuckle rub. No rustle of paws as my companion joyously runs through Dreamland; no whimpers and whines as visions of complaisant rabbits entertain his sleep. If fire trucks or ambulances sail by our house tonight, no sharp ears will twitch until a baritone howl emerges from an uplifted muzzle to fill the room, the house, the garden.

This morning began with a crash in the stairwell, seconds after his nails had scraped the fir floor of our bedroom with the familiar noises of his rising. He needs to go out right away, I’ll bet. I thought I’d better get out of the bathroom as quickly as possible to open the back door for him. Then the horrible crash: he’d fallen down the stairs as the heart attack hit him. He lay on the landing, panting, all 140 pounds of him, right in front of the compassionate figure of Kwan Yin..

My daughter came running from the library, where she sleeps. What’s happening?

Remember, you know everything, I thought. At some level, you know. "He’s dying," I said. The words tore my mouth.

"I think so, too," she said.

We held him and kissed him until the end. It was twenty to nine.

The day was long and hard. Eventually I will appreciate the beautiful parts, perhaps, but today’s physical and emotional effort left me numb. It took two strong men to bring our dear one’s body downstairs from the landing and lay him on his huge cushion in the living room. A friend and my daughter dug the grave, an arduous task since the back forty of our property is all tree roots and rocks. My daughter put out the news on the web, and the phone began to ring and the email list grew like Jack’s beanstalk–he was so well loved throughout the community. We planned a funeral and sent out that notice. Ten hours after his death, he took his last trip, in a wheelbarrow, and was laid to earth with his favorite squeaky toy and some food and valuables for the journey, all wrapped up with him in soft cotton sheets. Lilacs around his head. And then dirt, more dirt, and rocks to keep out bears, raccoons, or cougars. We toasted him, told stories about him, and read him poetry. I set a vase of flowers near his head, and we planned to plant a tree to shade his grave.

When the people had all gone, I went back to the grave. I’m no believer in spirits, heavens, or second chances at life. There is no consolation for death. Yet I thought, There should be another, longer grave. For me. If it weren’t illegal. There’d be comfort in the prospect of going to earth beside a beloved being.

Is it normal to think such thoughts? Or am I refusing to acknowledge what I know in my depth? It’s hard to tell, and today, I don’t care what I know.

My love is gone, and I am lost.

Feeling Sick

The sounds of people eating nauseates me.

The sight is even worse. I can’t find a spot on the ferry where masticating jaws of my particularly disgusting species of ape do not obscure the blue view of mountains and sea.

My appetite is too small to describe.

I took the cooler down, as usual, to Vancouver on another trip to see Mom, who’s not feeling too chipper. Brought her chocolate, which she has foolishly given up at 92 because of "cholesterol". Also brought her the right recipe for fruitlax. and other minor thoughtfulnesses….what else can one do?

I ate nothing in that polluted land except a piece of cake, as a courtesy. My mother and step-dad "make" it. Actually, it’s another package of poison, mixed with god knows what—water or the poisoned milk they buy. It’s garbage, but one piece won’t kill me. I eat it tenderly, finger-bit by bit, as if it were the food of love, which is probably its best description.

I read Nancy Huston’s Instruments of Darkness while waiting for the agonising heat to subside enough for sleep. I realised that someone forced the author to change the title: it used to be Instruments in Darkness, as in music in the dark, not necessarily the devil’s tools of destruction.

How wearisome, this religious crap pretending to be literature!

The book is about something important: mothers and their dead children. So, why am I so irritated? That fucking contrived demon doesn’t work. It’s a blatant trick. I skip over those parts. They’re awful. But they won the author’s pretty face the prizes. Dear God–you must have pulled the usual strings..

Okay, I have no pretty face (there’s a masterpiece of understatement!). Ugly old folks don’t win prizes unless they already have won prizes. As in, substantial prizes. Which mine are not. I will be obscure. Minor. Okay, that’s fine as long as people buy, read and enjoy my books. They’re good books, Better than most, quite likely.

The editor of Instruments should be shot. Error, error, error. Five run-on sentences on one page, followed by nine in the next paragraph. What? Have we forgotten the very existence of the semi-colon? The period?

Not to mention, of course, the dangling modifiers, the case errors, the number blunders.

English is moribund–why survive it?

The cooler had everything in it that one could wish: salmon, rice, chocolate pudding, bread, cake, greens, an orange, sausage, cheese.

Almost everything is still in it, and I don’t care.

I had to force down all those great supplements: astaxanthin, Vitamin D, chelation stuff, vision goodies, Cockle-a-doodle-do-10. Ate barely enough to get them down..

Do I want to live if it means giving up all thoughts of a future? Because that is the horrid vision surmounting the watery horizon….

Tonight was to have been a joy. Hah!


Were I not living in a more or less sensible country like Canada, this Mother’s Day could be my last.

It could be, anyway, but for my faith in our medical system, friends, and myself (probably in reverse order), but that doesn’t bear thinking about just yet, since I don’t know, and can’t know, the extent of the mischief crawling through me. I’m content to reflect that, if we still lived in the US, I’d have no clue that anything’s amiss, since tests like the one my doc foisted on me some months ago are not available to the uninsured public. Even if by some fluke I knew, there would be no options. Walk into a US hospital and you can hear the clocks start ticking: "ching ching ka-ching!" Insurance in America cost almost twice as much as the rent on my tiny office–not that I could get insurance, since my previous illness disqualified me from almost all coverage.

Just think: if I still lived in America, I couldn’t afford to keep myself alive until next Mother’s Day.

You can imagine that I looked forward to this Mother’s Day Sunday. I had projects lined up: scattering pinecones on the back forty that would grow tall and strong trees that live for centuries; leisurely brunch with my wonderful daughter who has come home to be with me; finding some strawberry plants and miniature blueberries to begin replacing the pesky and useless lawn; playing with the dog. Maybe writing a poem. Or flagrant reading–an entire book in one sitting.

Hah! Apparently I haven’t yet learned that making plans is a bad idea for the likes of me.

I guess not. Mother’s Day went off with a bang at 2:30 a.m. with motherly duties: a drive to the hospital to take care of my daughter’s maiden migraine. No fun–quite alarming, really.

Fortunately ours is a quiet community. There was only one other person in the Emergency area, groaning periodically behind a curtain, whether in pleasure or pain, it was hard to tell. A doctor arrived within thirty minutes to take a look at Kay. I was back home with a morphine-sozzled daughter in two-point-five hours, thinking, Migraines! You’re kidding! That’s terrible!

Kay slept off the goof until mid-afternoon, well after the last brunch-eating Mom had daintily wrapped an extra goodie from the town’s buffets into a purloined napkin for the cockapoo at home and slipped it into her purse. Meanwhile I worked away at my recalcitrant computer, sorting out the major issues and tasks of life into piles of things I can do and still bigger piles of tasks at least temporarily beyond me.

Lately, naps have become more attractive, to the point where I was seriously suspecting my body of allowing itself to think it is aging. I was about to succumb to a nap’s seductions when a knock on the front door suggested we had a visitor. A friend with Mother’s Day wishes or invitations? Someone needing to buy a book as a last-minute remembrance?

There stood Stan the aging hippy. His van, with his wife and rollicking kids inside, blocked my driveway. Arms akimbo, he wanted money. Must have heard I paid his brother. But the whole world knows how broke I’ve been lately, and I was mystified as to why he would choose Mother’s Day to harass me for a problem to which there is no solution but patience. I said I was ill and would like to be left alone on a Sunday, especially this one. That should be enough to wring an apology and a hurried best-wishes-and-bye-for-now from any civilised person.

What did I expect? This was the same person whose kids riot and wrangle through weekends at the farmers’ market, swinging from trees and staggering on stilts through the crowd, heedless of the damage they could do to our liability insurance and utterly deaf to any pleas for restraint. This was the same person who publicly slandered several Board members, including me, because he believes he is a law unto himself.This is the person who took for himself money I entrusted to him to give to his brother. And I expect this person to meet my definition of civilised?

That conversation ended with my prohibition against his ever showing up on my doorstep again, followed by a brief test of my ugly front door’s endurance. Alas! It endured yet another slam. No good excuse to replace it–at least one more nitwit or boor will have to test both my patience and its mettle.

Meanwhile, at 4:30, I succumbed to a sherry instead of a nap, feeling the old blood pressure all riled up.

Where is that cabin in the woods when you really need it?


Last week, my ninety-two-year-old mother had her first heart attack.

Not content with that, she also presented with a respiratory ailment and another of her famous UTIs when we caved to her request and called an ambulance.

She didn’t know where she was, when she was, or even who she was, much of the time. Hypoxia and a UTI can do that to you. When I arrived from my hometown, five hours away, she asked me what my title was–Nurse or Doctor? Later she called me "Pietje", probably because I resemble one of her sisters, who was actually quite a bit fatter and meaner than I.

Every now and then, Mom would pop back into the here and now, and appreciate either her husband or me, whichever of us sat beside her bed in Emerge. But by the end of the first evening she was firmly in la-la land, with no prospect of going home anytime soon, if ever. My poor stepdad had to endure watching the staff strap her down into the bed as she screamed imprecations in Dunglish at her evil husband who was forcing her to stay against her will. Next morning she was still a crazy person, wanting to divorce the man and convinced he had sold the house out from under her and me in one fell swoop since her admission to the hospital.

Dad knew of my diagnosis, but of course we did not tell my mother. What purpose would that serve unless and until she got better? None.

When she slept, I slipped out to the lab to take the battery of tests my home hospital sent down for me. Sitting in the chair with the tourniquet on my arm, I reflected on how full of ourselves we are, and how blind to reality. Who are you? Oh, I’m a person with a full set of legal rights and four-point-five degrees, a Mensa membership and a pleasant personality.Oh, I’m a never-say-die type of guy. Oh, I’m a free woman. Oh, I’m a child of Christ. Oh, I’m working through my 107th lifetime. We define ourselves by describing our minds, our spirits.

Yeah, sure, until you get a runaway UTI, deprive your bod of oxygen, or let lumpy bits inside you grow too big. Sometimes your doctors slip and you get a slimpse of what you look like from behind their eyes: another bag of smelly flesh and watery gunk, slung on a precarious framework of calcium sticks and animated by electricity–an odd but clever contraption that runs for a while but eventually runs out of parts or fuel. People probably look to doctors much as other animals look to vets.

Maturity begins the moment we acknowledge that mind and spirit operate only by permission of the flesh.