I take Peaches for a walk,
“around the block” you used to call it:
Up the road to the drive of the old house where the dairy was—both long gone now—
to that high point where we sat for the eclipse totality,
you in a pissy mood because the storm the night before
drove a tree branch through your pickup windshield
and we couldn’t go up to the river to camp.
But we looked down across the valley of Salt Creek
sharing that once in a lifetime strange dimness together.
Down to the pond where the calamus grows in wet years,
blooms smelling like tangerines.
Where we talked about how the Lakota call it siŋkpȟétȟawote,
muskrat his/her food,
or hoȟwa, for the leaf and stalks,
and šúŋkčhé, dog penis, for the root.
One year it was so dry even some of the old cottonwoods along the pond edge died.
And we mourned them.
She runs off and back on dog business, sniffing rabbits and so much more.
She seems almost happy.
Not like that first walk after you died
when she was scratching herself non-stop, chewing her feet bloody—
manifesting the pain we all felt,
waiting for you to come home.
On these walks is when she is happiest
On these walks is when my tears finally come.
How many walks did we have in thirty years?
How much tramping and bushwhacking?
How many paths and two-tracks?
How many adventures?
Remember that raw October day at Fort Rob
when we ducked into an old wooden shed to escape the wind,
only to find it stacked high with severed buffalo heads?
That was some horror.
Whites of eyes, tongues lolling.
Remember that baby beaver along the bank
when we were walking the sandy-bottomed Loup?
Or that last trip, just this past September,
running into quicksand out in the middle of the river,
getting serious stuck and sinking,
Peaches trotting by,
looking at us as we tried to pull our legs out,
the suction holding us?
Or that long walk up to Bucking Mule Falls high in the Bighorns,
when we camped at Porcupine Creek?
Your place with Mary, mine of family childhood.
What was it you used to say about coincidence?
Or all the walks at the lakes around here—
man-made for flood-control,
oases of life amid sterile fields of row-crops.
That one time we hadn’t seen each other for a while
and we were finally walking again
and we walked and walked and walked
all around Conestoga,
and when we stopped and looked down,
between us was a large perfect turtle shell.
It rests now with my others in the Cabinet of Curiosities.
All the dead animals we came upon,
you called them “carci,”
your made-up plural of carcass—
so long- and often-used that I would forget and use it among others,
receiving blank looks.
Our own language, yes.
Severed deer legs along railroad tracks, jaw bones,
indeterminate pieces of hide and fur.
Feathers and feet.
Remember we bought, at some highway gas station pit stop,
“Road Kill Bingo”
and howled as we played, driving west?
All the walks that first winter,
a Deep Snow Winter, they called them.
Trudging behind you in your footsteps,
the great Gentleman Dog, Lupé, still a pup, leading the way.
He always led, or took off on his own dog business.
The first time I took Peaches out after you died,
she walked right behind me the whole walk,
making me Alpha in your absence, staying close.
But yesterday she ran, tail wagging,
so busy—going here, going there, disappearing, reappearing.
I leave the Acorus pond—did we ever figure out:
was it natural or did someone plant a few once, long ago?—
and I head uphill to the ridge.
I stay inside the tree-line, away from the highway below,
and walk the top of the field.
It’s a “corn year.”
There was always one year you liked better, corn or alfalfa,
but I can’t remember which.
Now the little green shoots force themselves out of the brown earth
and into the light and air
among last year’s tire-shattered stubble,
cells inexorably replicating, green, green, green.
The rusty-orange of the Osage roots ripped out by the tractor
lie exposed, wounded.
I stop at the badger hole
and think of all the animals
we saw together over thirty years of companionship—
you would love this:
“‘one who accompanies or associates with another,’ from Old French compagnon ‘fellow, mate, friend, partner’ (12c.), from Late Latin companionem (nominative companio), literally ‘bread fellow, messmate,’ from Latin com “with, together” (see com-) + panis ‘bread,’ from PIE root *pa- ‘to feed’”—
could I list them all?
The dark coyote crossing the Loup behind us
that baby beaver
Blue Racer snakes
sunning turtles on stones,
and a hundred turtles laying eggs along the gravel road up at Bowman Lake—
each digging her hole and stretching one crook-ed leg down into it
so the soft white orbs would
gently roll down and her foot could tuck them to the side
to make room for the next;
the next morning most of those nests were dug up,
bits of now-hardened shell strewn about.
There had been a raccoon banquet.
And, yes, raccoons
Prairie dogs and buffalo
Rabbits and squirrels, of course
And Lupé gulping down a whole den of some baby critters—
So many hawks
that huge osprey
all the backyard birds—
you so strung on pain pills that summer your back went nuts,
lying in the old webbed recliner with binocs and field guide.
Obsessed, a running commentary on them all.
And herons in their rookeries.
I saw my first magpie with you.
Remember that line of white pelicans moving slow and low down the river?
Owls, gliding silently through black trees,
and hooting in the night wherever we camped
always the cranes—garoo-ah-ah!
That sound of them in their thousands lifting off in the dim light of morning
and coming back to roost in the safety of the river at dusk as the sky caught fire.
Dragonflies and damsels, and the difference between them
Clouds of skeeters
The fat spiders webbed across the paths at Gasteyer Nature Sanctuary,
so thick we had to swing sticks in front of us.
How many butterflies?
The ant lions in the fine dust out by the barn,
lying in wait at the bottoms of their conical traps.
Mountain trout—rainbows and browns.
I cross the spot where that huge mound of mined topsoil was,
someone selling the very earth.
But it made a great safety backstop
when we target-shot your .22,
plinking tin cans;
my gratification in learning, after a childhood of cap guns,
that I actually am a good shot.
All the strands of barbed wire lifted or pushed for each other
to cross fences,
and gates opened—and closed.
All the cottonwood logs we sat on
resting and having a smoke.
Standing on countless rises or above creeks
looking at our shadows side by side.
I get to the survey marker,
turn downhill toward the little dredged pond by the church—
the huge windowless pre-fab metal rectangle—
you called it The Warehouse of the Souls.
Peaches leaps in the water,
little frogs scattering and plopping in ahead of her.
Later, rolling on the grass, wriggling on her back to dry.
You are everywhere. Everywhere.
So I don’t know how to make sense of your absence.
We head home back up the road,
the dog trotting along behind me now,
knowing to be safe from the rare dust-raising car.
Cutting through the Parks Department shop yard,
we stand on the bank high above Salt Creek,
studying the tracks in the sandbar below.
Your shadow is not next to mine.
May 23, 2020