You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
–Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”
Cooper, the doomed beagle,
leaves his owner’s side and
nuzzles my hand for attention.
When he opens his mouth to yawn,
the air fills with sickly breath,
fetid from the liver failure
he doesn’t know he has.
We have to make a decision soon,
Cooper’s owner tells me
as I stroke the dog’s grateful head,
my hand the size and shape of comfort.
I’ve been reading Marcus Aurelius–
the ones who reached old age
have no advantage over the untimely dead–
when my doctor says I have a choice:
stop drinking or die. Aurelius: Ask yourself:
Am I afraid of death because
I won’t be able to do this anymore?
My hand shakes from all of the above
and a soft sound escapes from me
which is not my own voice.
I steady my hand and wonder
how or where Cooper is today.
Good dog, I say, and stroke a handful of air.
R.G. Evans’s books include Overtipping the Ferryman, The Holy Both, and Imagine Sisyphus Happy. His albums of original songs, Sweet Old Life and Kid Yesterday Calling Tomorrow Man, are available for download on most streaming platforms. Evans teaches creative writing at Rowan University in New Jersey. Website: www.rgevanswriter.com