The Secret We Share

Walt Whitman, 1855 "Leaves of Grass" portrait.

Walt Whitman, 1855 “Leaves of Grass” portrait.

My dog Sam and I have lapsed into the familiar. These days I seem to frequent only restaurants I know, ordering the same menu items time after time. For his part Sam, whenever he senses I’m about to vary from a customary walking route, stubbornly plants four paws until I turn the way his snout points, that is, the way he knows.

You might think these acts show we’re rooted in the past.

In fact we’re looking toward the future.

My health is good and so is Sam’s. But neither of us takes the passage of the seasons for granted, nor sunrises and sunsets.

The turning of the earth, after all, is constant, just as memory is constant, even in its loss. But the turning, and memory, we’re all required to leave behind. Our time is finite.

Some days we pause on our walks, and Sam reclines on his haunches like a sphinx. I begin to read aloud to him. If the autumn sun is warm, he may yawn contentedly, as he listens patiently to the words of Walt Whitman.

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me—he complains of my gab and my loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed—I too am untranslatable;
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

The last scud of day holds back for me;
It flings my likeness after the rest, and true as any, on the shadow’d wilds;
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.

I depart as air—I shake my white locks at the runaway sun;
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.

I bequeathe myself to the dirt, to grow from the grass I love;
If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am, or what I mean;
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged;
Missing me one place, search another;
I stop somewhere, waiting for you.

I close the book, comforted. Sam stands, ready to travel.

“You’re a good dog,” I say to him.

He wags his tail, letting me know he believes I’m a good dog, too.

That is the secret we share.


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