Sunday, March 23, 2014


     My father cheered when our dog ate flies. Killed them on our windows by slapping them with his paws. Black dog paddling at the sky, my dad's high laughter.
     Soda Pop. He wasn't a mutt. He was more a blend or a mix. A graceful mulatto. A creole dog. Let the purebreds walk around nervous and crippled by the obsessions of their suburban owners, their purity laws and neighborhood codicils, their trim lawns and vacuum packed homes where no one spills or shits or loves.
  Give me a mutt.
  Soda Pop. Because he had a white belly and when he turned over we called him root beer. He was mine. Well he was my brothers' but a youngest son thinks everything is his. Or should be.
   I'm sure I was a negligent boy. Slow to want to walk him, quick while doing so. Dismissive, ungentle, confident he was lucky to have our home and there'd be dogs to come.
  Strangely enough there weren't. Or never have been. I haven't had a dog since. Love them, play with them, borrow them greedily from their cocky owners but my own?….not since I was 12.
  Soda Pop had a spaniel's black coat with slow curls you could grab. A child could sink his hand in. Fur trickled over his toes. His tail was bushy. He wasn't more than 50 pounds and not a fighter. In a neighborhood of tough boys, like his owners he was more inclined to shy than bite. He had the kindest eyes. In them lit the simple canine desire to join you by the fire. A thousand generations of "feed me" pouring forth.
   He was born before me. All the animals I knew as a child were. The cats were all grown ups by the time I figured out they weren't toys. Soda Pop was a grandpa in my eyes. We were probably the same age give or take a year. He didn't fetch. He'd start to roll over and stop half way. He would offer one paw but not the other. He died on the picnic table on our back porch. Wrapped in a blanket laying on his right side looking out at the big Elms standing between us and the neighbors and the murmuring freeway below. 
   12 Christmases, 12 birthdays, 12 New Years, one graduation and all those Thanksgivings stuffing our house and his nose with what must have been heaven- it was for us. So he wandered among our shuffling feet and nosed our knees and watched us from his rug.
  And since then across three decades and two continents and three cities and too many apartments, I've "had" 12 cats, 2 raccoons, 20 something gerbils, a hamster, a snake and horses who belong to other people but who I tell myself are mine. Every one of them I know "liked" me because I fed them and didn't beat them. But in every one I looked to see that evidence of decision, that pause, that stutter in their animal motion that told me they were choosing me over instinct. I'd say I've seen it. But the people who get pushed by dolphins away from shore by the same motivation that saved others- it was fun for the fish- don't get to tell a tale.
  Do they have a soul these beasts? Do they "care"? Do they choose or care to choose- the beat of reflection, the puzzlement that makes us human, that makes an animal seem sentient, that keeps a hunter from pulling a trigger? (Or I should say a sniper….huntings hunting and sort of about the fact that one takes a life that's valuable to preserve other life.) But killing on the other hand….guy's walking down an alley and he's your enemy, raped your daughter or something and he's in your sights….and then he does something…pauses to look at a shadow….tosses someone's newspaper up onto a porch to keep it out of the rain...smiles at nothing..... Can you pull the trigger? 
  My friend Lowell and I were in some bar catching up on the latest 5 months we hadn't seen each other when a bug started across our table. It stopped. He noticed it and slid his thumb across the wood, gave it a nudge and the bug went on and I said, "You know I can't bear cruelty to an animal, can't imagine it, sends me into a rage but I'll still squash a roach with glee." And he nodded and said, " Yeah but after awhile once you say it, it has to be everywhere right? Everything has a little soul, even that little guy. When you can, when you're not starving, and you''re not threatened with infestation or something…let em pass by."
  I close my place up for weeks at a time. Seal it. There's nothing in my house to feed on, or so I think, but there they are. Flies. Trapped. I find them on the window sill like seals in the antarctic, dried in place. Frozen in gesture. And once in awhile I'll nudge one of these scetic figures and he'll move. Are they cold or are they starving? Is this how they try and survive the winters, a walking hibernation, in a metabolic insect aspic?
  Or has my apt become a flylike Galapagos? Do they know I won't kill them anymore? That I find them fascinating, beautiful? Warbirds compared to the happy blimp of a bee? Their mad cursive to a yellow jackets dutiful line? Bartok to Korsakov's Bumble.
  As I do with rats I imagine flies must mate for life. That they know their fellows and family. As I've come to with spiders so I am now with flies. They've such delicate armature, an architecture of living wire, eyes like dark gems cut with an hundred facets no one can see.
  I'll catch them under a glass. Slide a postcard beneath. The scramble. Possibly an arm lost but they'll manage. I walk out onto the porch and snap them free into the air. The fly catching lift like a jet off a carrier, like a spider falling in private gravity, mini mini squirrel, insectoid feline flipping over to safety.
  I just can't kill them much anymore. I don't own the rights. I can't take the motion away. The tapping perfection of their legs, the almost mammalian cleaning, the pauses they make before they move on, to me seem like small times of decision. They ponder, I believe, they choose, they wonder. They must.
  And sometimes in this chilled state they'll come to me. I'll get close and they'll indulge my prodding and step onto a finger, wander across my hand with the slightest tickle that tells me someone somewhere could call this weight.


  1. Like you I would never hurt any animal. And anyone who does is nothing but a coward who is too scared to confront someone their own size for fear of being beat. I wish I could say the same thing about insects or rodents. Living with someone who is allergic to bees makes you less sympathetic to something that can kill that person if not helped right away. Rodents just creep me out! Growing up we had a dog that was part beagle and part poodle. Back then she was given to us but now people would probably pay a lot of money for that kind of dog. She was the queen as my mom would tell her and she really was the queen of the house. Being the youngest like you I too thought she was just my dog. We were very lucky to have her for 18 years and losing her was like losing a friend. My parents got her when my mom was 6 months pregnant with me so I grew up with that dog. She looked like a beagle but had curly hair. So we would clip her hair somewhat short but left her ears curly. In our eyes she was the cutest dog and I still feel that way. Haven't had a dog since then but have had many cats which fit my lifestyle but would love to get a dog. Maybe one day.

  2. Oh, boy. Wait until you read the next to the last paragraph of my April column. Down with flies! And pigeons!

  3. There's something of what T. Williams appreciated (probably loved) about e.e. cummings in this one - "...someone somewhere could call this weight."

    It also reminds me of a story I read about R. Frost. A friend of his recollected a story when both men were seated next to a fire, reading. The friend spotted a spider crawling across the pages of Robert's book and assumed that if Bob was aware of the threat he'd kill it. The friend warned him and Robert did nothing. After a pause the friend asked why he hadn't squashed the trespasser. Frost responded, "I refuse to end a thought no matter how small." My memory of this other (forgotten) man's memory might be inaccurate but... I'm sure you're picking up what it is I'm laying down.

  4. I read your post the other day, but been busy cause I'm moving back to NYC :D super happy... anyway, about 2 hours ago I had an ant crawling across my arm. I guess out of instinct I squished it and then immediately felt bad. Over the last yr or so I've been really thinking hard on this subject of if I have any right to be taking these creatures life away, just because I'm bigger and can and they can be annoying? Of course no is the answer I always come to. So I feel bad :(
    I've also been thinking about just eating meat in general and how I feel about that. A part of me wants to be a vegetarian and another part doesn't (mainly my taste buds). Oh bacon, why do you have to taste so good? Lol seriously...
    I definitely think animals(other than humans) have a wider range of emotions than the average person realizes. You can especially see it in cats and dogs. You can see it in a dogs eyes when they feel guilty, sad, or excited. Too bad we can't have a proper conversation with them, would be very interesting.

  5. so beautiful and touching. We are not alone in this planet we have the lovely animals sometimes they are more pure than us. and sometimes i think they have soul. Please keep in touch!! and never stop writing & sharing your stories.

    Jose Padron

  6. Really touching!
    I'm here,tonight, hearing the rain outside, thinking of these words you wrote while my kitty is playing next to me, so lovely and adorable... I really can't imagine how I could feel better... I can't imagine me with another company ... I'm in Brazil, you are in EUA and your words connected us, so this feeling... the most pure love.

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