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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 8, Number 4, December 2014

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Glenn G. Coats
Prospect, Virginia, USA


The Bestowal of Blessings

What matters is simply a choice we make, a choice
governed by time and opportunity and how well we persuade
ourselves to go on until some other powerful force overtakes us.

                    —from "Puppy" by Richard Ford

After studying the x-rays, Dr. Gates says, "The tumor is on her tongue. I am going to take her into surgery now." Knowing my wife and me, he doesn't ask us if we want Millie to have the surgery. He is intent in doing all that he can to help her.

Millie is slow to recover and she is off food now, turns away from once cherished treats. My wife makes her scrambled eggs with cheese, cube steak, even baby food with vegetables and barley. Nothing works. She drinks a bit of water then finds a cool place to sleep and dream.

swallows at dusk
river shadows darken
her coat

scent of rock
the dog drags
some river home

The next day, it's sunny and I sit with her on the porch. Millie no longer pays attention to the movements of birds and rabbits, no longer sits up when she hears the sound of a car or a familiar voice. She just wants back inside, wants to lie back down on her bed.

One afternoon, I lift her onto the backseat of the car. "We're going for a ride," I say. "Lay down now girl, take a rest." Millie won't lie down and her eyes gaze at all that flashes outside the window. She studies fields of new tobacco, abandoned railroad cars, the glint of sun on shallow lakes and ponds, the twisted oaks and tall pines. It is the most alert I have seen her in weeks. Rain starts to fall around Clarksville and the steady drum of it lulls her to sleep.

the dog curls
beneath her song
lilies in June

end of spring
she asks if I'll keep
a lock of hair

Bird song cuts through the haze and Millie walks slowly past the blueberry bushes and the holly. She hears my neighbors' voices, her tail wags and she begins to bark and talk at the same time. Joe kneels down to stroke her head—his hand brushes the length of her back. Joe's wife is in tears. "It's hard," he says. "Harder than if it were a person sometimes." Millie has gathered up strength and pulls me toward the road—she wants to go for a walk.

I take down the harness from a hook on the wall; loosen the straps so it won't rub the growth on her shoulder. Millie steps into it the way she always does, lifts her head up in the air, and soon matches her stride with mine. I walk with her all the way to Bayberry. Each time I pause to turn around, Millie pulls forward—she will not stop. I take a big loop and walk past a man sitting on the tailgate of his truck. "What a beautiful dog," he calls out.

first light
I step through spaces
she once filled

scent of pine
how else to remember
a river

The cancer spreads like brown spots on a banana. Each day there is swelling in a new place. "Is she in pain?" my daughter asks. I tell her that I don't know. My daughter says I know the right thing to do.

After the final clinic visit, I stand outside not knowing where to go. I look back for movement behind windows and listen for a rustle of feet. All is quiet. Fledglings emerge from a dense cedar—sparrows— and perch on a wire, dotting the lines like notes on a musical scale. A car crunches gravel on its way to somewhere.

river dusk
stones light the hillside
like lambs

full moon
a circle of stones
around the tree

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