how to lose

My friend, Jodi, lost her dog today. I felt a certain love for Molly because she looks like my Cleopatra, who is old and sometimes lame. I am always worried about my family’s fragility when it comes to our animals.

A long time ago, I wrote this poem about the loss of two of my dogs. And because I’m already crying, I thought it would be all right to reprise it at this time and rededicate it to Jodi. I wish the title were more honest, that the poem actually told us how to lose. As if there were a way.

how to lose

first you drown.
by force of shock
shock of force.
you can almost touch
a breath with your hand.
now you thrash toward it
splashless kicks to surface
but you drown.
now go limp.
the near-infinite sea
the color of deep
the smell of dark
the taste of black.
now wallow.
you and the ocean dogs
bay at moonless night
howl at sunless day
whimper as the tides shift.
you and the ocean dogs.

they say that grief is reduced
by half each year
that fresh death
goes half stale
then half again.
Ten years of halves
of halves
of halves
and you can still reach down
and touch it
still break it open
with a nail,
still crawl back inside it
grief as comfort
as old friend.

when he becomes
a phantom limb
dangling by your side
silent and painless
you will sink less
by half and half again.

but when another goes
the drowning will be deeper
the moaning will undulate
like the voice of ghosts
and you and the ocean dogs
will gnaw at every old wound.
you and the ocean dogs
will sit.


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  1. Anonymous August 29, 2008 at 10:18 am #

    beautiful…making me cry all over again.


  2. patrick August 29, 2008 at 10:18 am #

    So great, this poem… as is the rededication.

    Certainly, no matter how many times the grief is halved, it will never come to zero.

  3. jennifer August 29, 2008 at 11:09 am #

    this is brilliant. and very hard to read, as i haven’t yet faced this, but as i look over at smilla sitting two feet away from me, i know i will, and it already breaks my fucking heart.

    thanks for posting this for jodi.

  4. Anonymous August 29, 2008 at 7:59 pm #

    I need to go give Boo a big hug.


  5. Aunt Teena August 30, 2008 at 12:49 am #

    So sad. I posted a picture of my cat Dinah who we put to sleep last December. I had quite a cry myself today. Over Mollie and Dinah.

    Beautiful poem.


  6. Fiona/Fotofig August 30, 2008 at 10:48 am #

    Off to hug Ruby now. Wow — powerful stuff. It would actually apply to the loss of a person as much as it would to the loss of a dog. Sadly, I have more experience of losing people than dogs. That sucks.

    I posted, on Flickr, a shot of my two Cairn terriers who are no longer with us. One of them was my special darling, and this poem makes me think of him.

  7. Diana Pappas August 30, 2008 at 10:58 pm #

    i hear this and have felt this. I’ve never heard that bit about the grief being reduced by half each year… makes a lot of sense, but even with half the grief I’m still in a cloudy haze, still missing my little guy, still welling up with tears at the thought.

  8. Art2 September 4, 2008 at 1:17 pm #

    That’s a beautiful poem Leslie.


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