Life With Horace

poetry & essays


a burst of chickadees

despite the morning’s
snow and wind,
the birds came, knowing
they would feed here
in the sheltered tuck
of our house’s ell.
when they had
picked it clean,
I ventured out
with snow drunk dogs
to heap the platform
high with seed again
and stuff the suet grid.
as I struggled,
being short,
to place the hanger
on an apple branch,
a flutter led my eye
to see a burst
of small black caps,
spread scattershot
through apple arms
and lilac upright spray,
brassy bold, waiting for
their feast,
and us to go.

not knowing what form the snow would take, it was a shock to see upwards of 30 birds (no exaggeration) together at our feeders this morning, in the middle of swirling snow and wind. mourning doves, jays, chickadees, cardinals, titmice, nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers, a red bellied woodpecker, slate colored juncoes, the odd sparrow all came and went, constant movement, an amazing sight. our chickadees are pretty fearless, and they regularly wait (and scold us if they think we move too slowly) when the other birds have fled. the sight of 15 or so of them spread out in the branches while I filled the feeders was marvelous.


Love held close

We carry with us
an unwilling certainty
that animals we love
will leave before we do,
taking with them
pieces of our hearts,
undimming coals
that light the way
and speed their journey
to another plane.

Death is not the
end of love,
merely a delimiter
once its torch is lit.
The bond created,
its existence
even unremembered
in the living world,
cannot be undone
or the joy obliterated.
Its ripples reach us all.

So while these
cherished creatures
live among us,
love is best held close,
celebrated clear eyed
and without regret
even as we know
its glow will one day
be reflected
in the sky at sunset,
a glint on dancing waves,
or from the flash
of deep night stars.

The loss of an animal can bring us to our knees, because they often need us to make the choice to let them go. What remains to comfort us is the memory, the spirit of love.

[the photo was taken at Black Dog Farm, Thanksgiving 1994. As you might imagine, to get all those dear Lab faces so perfectly lined up, food was involved, off camera. Sammy, my heart dog and protector, now long gone, sat 3rd from the left.]


the lover

brown eyes that relegated
those of graceland’s
long-gone king
to minor status,
a dedicated would-be ladies man,
busking for apples
and caresses on his velvet nose,
infinitely curious,
sidling up to eager hands
and hearts to give
as well as take

his middle life
was night to this
bright day,
his courage fabled now.
what does it take
to walk a path
of pain and fear
right to the brink,
yet rally when all hope
seems gone,
a chance at life
remembered only
in a dream?
great will and vital spirit,
embers fanned by voices
of his sudden liberation,
then simply choosing life.

a miracle of parts,
his resurrection,
measured by small steps,
great victories for him
and for the people
working to reclaim
his life in full.
despite his none
too patient jennys,
and indifferent sheep,
once healed he stood his ground,
they were his charges,
as was any child
that came within his reach,
a solid presence for small bodies,
lovingly benign,
an echo of his youth.

his friendship won
was golden,
taking morning kisses,
braying out his siren call.
sometimes fierce,
he never claimed perfection,
nor did we expect it,
and he led us gently
to communion with his world,
departing when he knew
his work was done,
at rest now on the pasture slope
near his beloved tree,
and we will visit,
bringing love

for Simon, who died yesterday, january 3, 2015. and for Jon and Maria who shared him with us.

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let out the old

it is gone by,
a twelve-month,
reasons to celebrate
layered with
cautionary images
and sorrow
as is only fair,
intimate flashes,
even to growth,
achingly rich
creative elation,
a dog tail’s broad sweep
of the months,
days racing like
mountain clouds,
slipping away
until now,
flinging solstice
behind us,
finding more light,
we are at the top
of the grade,
minds straining
to cross the divide
into the new,
full of impossible

my southern scottish grandmother always brought in the new year with every light on in the house, the front door flung wide, and us that were there “letting out the old and letting in the new”, punch cups of egg nog in hand. the egg nog was her family’s recipe, so full of rum and brandy (I still dilute it with cream or milk) that those who helped her make it always ran the risk of intoxication from the fumes!