May 12, 2011
Pictured: Bear as a fuzzy pup, around 15 years before he'd cross another threshold.
"I wrote this poem on Jan. 26, 2011, the night before I had to put my truest friend to death," the e-mail read. "I could not sleep that night, and so I laid next to his bed and just listened to him sleep, rubbing his hot fur, trying to remember 15 years of our youth gone by.
"At some point I sat up and wrote this poem."
That was the introduction I had to the first poem in a long time that made me blink away mist. Here is the poem, which also serves as the second in a two part series. The first, Life and Death With My Best Friend: Part 1, I posted earlier this week.
Bear’s Last Trek • By Corby Anderson on Jan. 27, 2011 (National Bear Day)
I’ve been gone for two weeks straight
Chasing work from state to state
Finally free to come on home
I ran my truck through the fog
Of a Central Valley California winter.
I was running fast, coming home
Because waiting for me was my dog
He’s been on his last legs
For a month, maybe less
Ever since the veterinary gal found the cancer.
He was waiting for me there
Like a proud and humble bear
But you know, looking in his eyes
I could see the pain inside
And that’s sayin’ a lot, cause he’s a fighter.
It’s been a tough few years
Recession blues have primed our tears
We lost our house to the bank
I lost two jobs and I think
That my stash jar has already been emptied.
So, I sat down to think it all out
Poured some whiskey tall and stout
I scratched my dog on his trembling head
Whispered a prayer as he crawled to bed
For some way to pay him back for his service.
It was then that I saw it there
In my battered office chair
Atop a pile of household bills
Insurance charges for our ills
It was an envelope, and inside it was a letter.
It was from my old Granma don’t you know?
In North Carolina all alone
Wishing me good will through hard times
And folded into her written lines
Was a check for one hundred sixty dollars.
She said “spend it anyway that helps”
And “I sure loved that little feller”
“When you’d come visit me from school
I’d feed him cornbread by the spool’
And, “your Aunt Deanie would wish you peace, I know it.”
I curled up next to my old dog’s bed
And fell asleep there by his head
When I awoke he was breathing pretty slow
But he rallied when I arose
On wobbling legs, he stood and followed me out to the truck.
We drove down to the bank and cashed my Granma’s check
And together we headed down the coast on our last trek
Where we found the nearest seaside joint
I carried him in and made a point
To tell the waiter to bring his rarest steak, and two beers.
“Cut it thick and cook it light
And give him anything he likes
It’s our last day so pour it on
And don’t forget the bone”
And don’t you know the chef gave it to us gratis?
Ol’ Bear wolfed it down in a flash
Plus a can of corned beef hash
I ordered a round for the bar
And we all drank to friends near and far
But you know those gents would not let me settle.
“It’s on us, Friends of Bear!”
Said the one with wild red hair
“We can tell he’s a good damn dog”
“You got that right, he’s a true fun hog,”
I said as I carried him out into the Big Sur sunset.
We sat there in the sand, me and Bear
Watching one last sun sink into its lair
When the darkness came I built a fire
Out of some driftwood Bear admired
For it’s smoothness and it’s perfect stickly shape.
I watched the flames flicker in his sweet brown eyes
As we sat under cloudless winter skies
Telling stories without words
Just two buddies on this Earth
One a dog, one a man, but which is which?
We fell asleep there by the sea
Just my old friend Bear and me
I had a dream so strange and live
Bear came to me as a spirit guide
He said, “I’m fine just keep your eyes on the ball!”
When I awoke I was alone
With just one well-gnawed steak bone
There were no tracks that I could see
Bear had washed out into the sea
All on his own in keeping with his independent spirit.
Oh how I cried and I cried
I felt all torn up inside
Driving home back up the coast
To my wife who he loved the most
She was sad, but said that she was not all that surprised.
Later on that day
At the store to get some thing
I saw two kids, and what luck?
They had a cardboard box full of pups
Said the bitch was a shepherd, but they didn’t know the father.
My heart leapt as I looked inside
And caught one pair of warm brown eyes
They had a flickering of fire
As that pup reached deep into my mind
The kid said “I’ll sell you him for one-hundred-sixty dollars!”
Epilogue: When he sent me the poem, Anderson prefaced it by saying it was "mostly true." When I told him—annoying editor alert—that the ending felt a little too fictional, he told me something striking.
"I mention my dear Grandma in the poem, who at the time was alone and sort of sickly but was generally OK. She fell the day after Bear died, and joined him in death two days later. Heavy times."
The $160 she gave him, it turns out, wasn't the precise price of the puppies: It was exactly the same amount the vet needed to euthanize Corby's best pal.
Corby Anderson is a freelance writer who has frequently contributed to the Monterey County Weekly. After three years on the coast, Anderson ended his California exile and recently returned to his long-time home base of the Roaring Fork Valley in Colorado. His collected stories, essays, poems and musings can be found at www.corbyanderson.wordpress.com