In memory of Matty, 2000-2015
I didn’t think we’d get here quite so soon.
I thought there were a few more streets to go, but no:
just the question of a parking meter close to the vet’s door.
A journey we have made too many times before,
and now will make no more.
She made me welcome to the house at once:
before I married her mistress, became a permanent fixture,
she told me I was part of the family, beguiled me with that mixture
of adagio softness, beauty, joie de vivre
and such good nature as the dogless
struggle to conceive.
Try to forget her decline; remember
her glossy, rumbustious prime:
dark paw prints left in the silver dew as she raced across the lawn –
a star-chasing, floppy-eared goddess of the dawn;
her little sneezes of joy;
wild games with a wild boy;
leaps from nowhere into your lap;
crescendos of yelp and yap
excavating a dune
or badger’s lair –
with all the magical scents laid bare
by that restless, questing nose.
We miss her bounding through the bracken;
we miss her in repose.
Ten days after her death, we travelled to Italy.
Our tiny hire-car grumped and harrumphed, struggling to reach
the lofty Umbrian hill towns, each
endowed with saints’ lives and Annunciations
to catch the breath and cast in pale relief
our hasty cyber-age preoccupations,
reconfiguring our grasp of grief.
Unfailingly, the animals in these pictures distract us from the people –
even the angels with their tawny-feathered, perfectly folded wings:
a terrier dancing to crude, pig’s-bladder bagpipes;
a docile, fascinated ox upstaging the Three Kings;
and in St Francis’s basilica at Assisi
those birds, those listening birds,
waiting in orderly rows to hear
too fine for human ear.
What arrogance it seems to think that we
have something that our spaniel lacked in her simplicity:
that what Church Fathers named the soul resides
only in us, and all besides
blossoms and dies and yields up to the grave
the love that it inspired, the affection that it gave.
And so, among the pilgrims’ dense, T-shirted throng,
Stranger, in your kindness, offer up a prayer
for a small black dog whose presence was a song
carried on the wakening summer’s air,
whose loss our untuned hearts can hardly bear.