We must have known, Even as we reached Down to touch them Where we’d found them
Shut-eyed and trembling Under a straw bale In the haymow, that She would move them
That night under cover Of darkness, and that By finding them We were making certain
We wouldn’t see them again Until we saw them Crouching under the pickup Like sullen teens, having gone
As wild by then as they’d gone Still in her mouth that night She made a decision Any mother might make
Upon guessing the intentions Of the state: to go and to Go now, taking everything You love between your teeth. ~Austin Smith “Cat Moving Kittens”
I’ve never known a farm cat who doesn’t hold something back in their loyalty to their human. They are never “all in” like a dog who lavishes love without thought or hesitation.
Cats live at a bit of a remove here, particularly if they grew up without being regularly handled and cuddled.
I don’t mind our barn cats’ autonomy and self-sufficiency as they need those characteristics when they live independently outside rather than as part of furniture in the house with us. They must view the rest of the world with some suspicion and caution, viewing things from afar with their keen eyes rather than leaping in without thinking.
As I go about my day on the farm, moving from shed to barn to garage to house, I have the distinct feeling of being watched. The reality is — they could run this place on their own if they needed to — and they do.
Now we are here at home, in the little nation of our marriage, swearing allegiance to the table we set for lunch or the windchime on the porch,
its easy dissonance. Even in our shared country, the afternoon allots its golden lines so that we’re seated, both in shadow, on opposite
ends of a couch and two gray dogs between us. There are acres of opinions in this house. I make two cups of tea, two bowls of soup,
divide an apple equally. If I were a patriot, I would call the blanket we spread across our bed the only flag—some nights we’ve burned it with our anger at each other.Some nights we’ve welcomed the weight, a woolen scratch on both our skins. My love, I am pledging
to this republic, for however long we stand, I’ll watch with you the rain’s arrival in our yard. We’ll lift our faces, together, toward the glistening. ~Jehanne Dubrow from “Pledge”
Whether it is a beloved country, or a devoted marriage, there is need for loyalty to last through the difficult times and the imperfections.
We pledge allegiance to the republic of one another among acres of opinions: our differences in how we see the world contrast with our shared goals and dreams. Our stubborn persistence to stay intact is threatened by our fragile weaknesses that can easily break us asunder.
So we stand united, no matter the dissonance and the disagreements, drenched with the responsibility and accountability to make this union work, no matter what, for as long as we shall live, and much much beyond.
May we glisten with the pledge of allegiance: we can only accomplish this together.
How shall I not adore them, snoozing right through the Annunciation? They inhabit the outskirts of every importance, sprawl dead center in each oblivious household.
They’re digging at fleas or snapping at scraps, dozing with noble abandon while a boy bells their tails. Often they present their rumps in the foreground of some martyrdom.
What Christ could lean so unconcernedly against a table leg, the feast above continuing? Could the Virgin in her joy match this grace as a hound sagely ponders an upturned turtle?
No scholar at his huge book will capture my eye so well as the skinny haunches, the frazzled tails and serene optimism of the least of these mutts, curled
in the corners of the world’s dazzlement. ~David Graham “The Dogs in Dutch Paintings” from The Honey of Earth.
They are part of the scenery, always there, close by and near enough to touch, yet taken for granted until they are gone.
What would I do without them during times like these, when I need their steady gaze and happy wag? They look right into my eyes, trying to discern what I’m thinking and what I’ll do or say next, so I am held to a higher standard. These four-footed fluffy fellows are my conscience, reminding me my motives are always scrutinized.
They may be in the background of the old masterpieces, curled in the corners, just part of the furniture, but day in and day out their love and loyalty dazzle me, remaining front and center in my heart.
Needing them still, I come when I can, this time to the sea where we share a room: their double bed, my single. Morning fog paints the pale scene even paler. Lace curtains breathing, the chenille spread folded back, my father’s feet white sails furled at the edge of blue pajamas. Every child’s dream, a parent in each hand, though this child is fifty. Their bodies fit easily, with room to spare. When did they grow so small? Grow so small— as if it were possible to swell backwards into an earlier self.
One more year, I ask the silence. Last night to launch myself into sleep I counted their breaths, the tidal rise and fall I now put my ear to, the coiled shell of their lives. ~Rebecca McClanahan from “Watching my Parents Sleeping Beside an Open Window Near the Sea” from Deep Light: New and Selected Poems.
My parents have been gone now for some time, my father over 25 years, my mother now over 10 years. Their dying was a long process of counted breaths and pauses. I witnessed their bodies curling into themselves, shrinking smaller, worn down by illness and age.
I still miss them, reminded of them by the events of my own life, still wanting them to take me by the hand as I navigate my own daily path.
After mom’s death, those possessions not distributed to family members have remained packed up and stored in our barn buildings. I know it is well past time to deal with their stuff as I become keenly aware of my own greying and aging.
Untouched in the bookshelf of our bedroom is a sealed box of over 500 letters written by my mother and father between 1941 and 1945. I know the letters began as they were getting to know each other at college, then going from “pinned” to “engaged” and continue for three and a half more years after a hurried wedding Christmas Eve 1942. By mid January 1943 my newly minted Marine officer father shipped out to spend the next three years of his life on the Pacific Ocean, fighting on the battlefields of Saipan, Tinian and Tarawa, not to return again to the states until late summer of 1945. My mother wrote her letters from a rural eastern Washington community, living in a “teachers’ cottage” with other war wives who taught school while waiting for their husbands to return home – or not.
It has taken me a decade to find the courage and time to devote to reading these letters they treasured and never threw away. Yesterday I sorted them unopened by postmark date into some semblance of order and sat down to start at the very beginning, which, of course, is my beginning as well. Only sixty letters in, I open each one with some trepidation and a lump in my throat about what I might find written there. I worry I may find things I don’t want to know. I hope I find things that I desperately need to know.
Most of all I want to understand the two people who became my parents within the coiled shell of their forty years together, though broken by a painful divorce which lasted a decade. Having lived through that awful time with them, I want to understand the origin of a love which mended their cracked shell, glueing them back together for five more years before my father died.
As I read their words over the next few weeks, I hope I too can cross a bridge back to them both.