Dear Mugford

Dear Mugford,

I thought I would try to talk to you in a beautiful, quiet place where I know no one in the world goes: my website.

Look! I’m starting with a joke. Today might be a little easier than yesterday. I am hoping that as I go through some kind of formal motion to process these words, you are receiving them somewhere—that they will translate into some univocal, language-less knowing that will accompany you, wherever or whatever you may or may not be now. I thought about sitting on the porch where we normally sit when I’m working on my computer, but it is still hard to look at the birds we spent so many summers watching together. There are a lot of “hards” I didn’t think of when we knew it was time to say goodbye. I foolishly thought I’d feel some relief. You wouldn’t be struggling to get up and walk anymore. No more pain. No more humiliating falls up the porch steps. But you—enormous as you were, in both body and spirit, have left a gaping aching hole in the house. All day I feel like I’m tiptoeing around it. Suddenly without warning I’ll fall in, and there I am on my hands and knees pressing my nose to the hardwood floor in the space that was once your dog bed—my fingers tracing the many scuff marks made in the wood from your gigantic paw nails. I open the ring box over the sink and touch and smell the bundle of fur that you shed while I was hugging and comforting you on the porch one last time. The fur that fell as you flopped a knowing paw on my shoulder and we took that dreaded drive to the vet. Then something happens that hurtles life back on track—Maeve needs to be driven to soccer. Dinner needs to be made. Henry has a piano lesson. And I crawl out of the hole again and try to carry on.

I cleaned the drool off the French doors almost immediately after we put you down. I couldn’t bear to see it. Now I can’t bear that the doors are still clean. In the 10+ years we’ve lived in this house that’s never happened. Even now, with you 4 days gone, a bundle of your hair will blow across the floor like tumble weed. It lets loose from some corner no matter how many times I sweep or vacuum. I know I have to accept that I’ll be finding remnants of your time with us for many years to come.

Hey, remember that time you shook your head and your drool hit the ceiling? That was incredibly disgusting. Or the time Bert and I were watching a show, and you let out a fart so foul that you raised your heavy head and looked at us like, “Damn, it stinks like shit in here,” and you had to leave the room. I thought I wouldn’t miss the ugly things that came with your bigness. Your rhino-sized shits. Slipping on your drool. And the many times I stopped in my tracks as I was rushing around because of something or another and yelled, “Mugford, why do you always have to be such a fucking mountain in the middle of everything!” I’m sorry for that. I’m sorry you couldn’t be the lap dog you always wanted to be. I’m sorry for the many small dogs that would visit and just leap up onto the couch while you were stuck on the floor letting out a big “oh fuck that little shit” sigh.

I took our new little shit, Arlo for a walk this morning. It was the same route we used to take when you were young and enjoyed walks. I ran into a woman who asked if Arlo was friendly. “I think so?” I said, unknowingly. “He’s just a puppy.” And she replied, “Oh, he seems so calm, so behaved.” I told her that he had an elderly Mastiff to show him the ropes. And she immediately knew who I was, where I lived, and the Mastiff I was talking about. “Oh we always admired that beautiful dog.” It’s true you’ve always been something of a celebrity, and not all dogs get that. When you’d accompany me outside to fill the bird feeders or wait for the kids to get off the bus, cars would often stop just to have a look at you. Random adults and kids would often smother you without warning. And you would always take it, or rather, you received it. Always thankful for affection and attention however it came. I’ll never forget that time we took you to Lowell Folk Fest and you were treated as one of the main attractions. We couldn’t turn a corner without someone wanting to pet you and talk about you. We heard, “Wow! look at that dog!” constantly, and the not-so-clever line we’ve gotten your entire life, “When are you going to put a saddle on that thing?!”

Yeah, I won’t miss that.

When we were grappling with the decision to put you down. I said to Bert, “It feels like a chapter is ending.” And Bert said, “Are you kidding? Mugford is the volume that holds so many chapters.” And it’s true, you were the dream of how we saw our future. A big gentle dog that would guide us through so many monumental milestones. Our first home. Our marriage. You sat at my feet and anchored me as I waited through the labor pains of all of the children, and greeted each baby with unequivocal love. You saw us all through so many tears and so much laughter. You spent more time in the house than any of us. I can count on one hand how many times I have been alone here without you. And just like that, in a terrible instant—you have disappeared, and I am so very lonely with you gone.

Bert and I sat on the porch most of the weekend sharing our sadness. Talking about all of the things you must have seen from your various vantage points. At one point we moved outside and placed two Adirondack chairs in a sunny spot in the yard, and let ourselves soak in the sun, just like you loved to do, no matter how hot it was. “We are enduring that one true thing, aren’t we?” Bert said. “The certainty of death. It is never certain that something will be born, but once it’s born, it is certain it will die.” We always knew the day would come. I look at Arlo, and I know I am beginning the process again. A new volume with barely one chapter yet to fill it. He’s been keeping me company a lot, licking my tears away, ruining shoes and shitting on the floor, etc. For a little guy, he’s a mighty distraction. I am thankful for that.

Mugford, you were our closest friend. I wish we could have given you more. It’s not fair how much you loved us so unconditionally despite all of our flaws. Always taking the back seat to the needs of others. When we were saying goodbye, I rested the entire weight of my body on top of you. You always loved that, to feel the literal weight of someone’s affection no matter how heavy. You had a body built to hold it. I hope that you felt it as you drifted from us, when you let out that one big beautiful snore—my head resting on your head, your head in Bert’s hands—and us both not knowing what else to say other than another true thing: “You are such a good boy. Such a good boy. Such a good boy…you’re Him.”

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Open: Journal of Arts & Letters: Featured Writer

I’m so grateful to have been the featured writer for OJAL for the month of May. Seven of my poems were published, as well as a craft essay and an interview. Since the content came out daily in individual posts, I’m compiling it into this blog post for easier access. This feature means so much to me because all of the content is pulled or inspired from my current manuscript, titled Crow Funeral. The next step is finding it a happy home!

Thanks again for reading.

Poems in the feature:

Vessel

911

The Sentinel

Glimpse

Now I Lay Them Down To Sleep

Grease

Reincarnate

Craft Essay:

Crow Funerals and the Loss of Meaning

Interview

Vera Falenko, Contributing Editor Interviews Featured Writer Kate Hanson Foster

Reviews by Kate: Iron Moon