Issue 8 – Cullen

Collette Cullen

Speak Dog Speak

The son is 24. He speaks to me of passion. He wants a life infused with passion. He wants fire’s flame.

Our dog was once passionate about squirrels. She lived, breathed, and bounded in their name. In the forested yard, an Elysian Field of nuts and berries and a circus canopy of trees: an amusement park for a city block worth of squirrels, she lived her passion chasing them. The adventure was enlivened for the squirrels by the great fun of taunting the white beast whose ancestors were bred to fetch fowl from the swamp and retrieve them for the shooter. This dog named Avery (for Shug in the Color Purple) would course and bay and sprint like flashes of light through the woods in hopes of seizing that irritating prey. Only squirrels enticed her. She was inured to birds or chipmunks. No sport there.

Squirrels were her passion. They made her forget heat or the traveling boy whose scent for many years lulled her to sleep at night. They made her forget the six pins that screwed her broken hip together. (She probably saw a squirrel back when she was a 10-week-old pup and bolted into traffic; facing death in pursuit of her nemesis.)

Ahh…that is how passion can be. (When I was scattering her ashes, I found that the crematorium had reverentially placed the pin from her hip in a snack-sized zip-lock bag.)

It disturbed me how all the ups and downs of her dog life must have ailed her. Yet in spite of her age she had purpose. When I stood up, she got up. When I went to the kitchen, she went to the kitchen. If I was in the bathroom she stood outside the door often barking, waiting for me. Her purpose was to watch over me.

She watched me when I got divorced and moved from that forested squirrel habitat. She gave me dog kisses on the summer day I witnessed our old land getting clear-cut. She kissed away the tears. She stood watch when the boy left to move towards manhood, taking his smell and his spilly self (no more nibbles or half- eaten sandwiches for her). She was vigilant in her watch of me when I returned from California from the boy’s bedside as he blew past a 14-blood-transfusions near-death experience. Our goodbye hug, left a remnant of the boy’s scent and the faint clean smell of the hospital’s urgency. The dog smelled the battering to my heart.

The boy wants passion.

I want to be like my dog, the way she became and remained up to that last day. My great passion was my work as a teacher, a role lost abruptly, leaving me spinning like my dog looking to the tree tops.

I tell the boy, I want to be like my dog who on her last earth day, unleashed, followed me around the block, sniffed at a young lad, and trod on.

On our last morning prayer/coffee time (a ritual to which she accompanied me for every one of her 14 years) she did not take her usual stance resting at my feet her paws folded seemingly in prayer. Instead on that last day she stood, her haunches burrowed into my thighs, baying relentlessly at some unseen thing. Perhaps she saw a squirrel…

So yes, I long for passion. But just now I hope to be like my dog, to move forward with some grace and purpose.