Monday, December 5, 2016


This feature will touch your hearts, my friends, especially those of you who love dogs.  It began as a poem of the week with other poets, but over the course of putting it together, events conspired which told me to honour it with its own feature. We have three heart-catching poems for you today, penned by Michael Phan, whom we know as grapeling, who writes at his blog of the same name. 

They are tear-jerkers, especially for we dog lovers. Keep some Kleenex handy, and let's take a look at Michael's moving poems about his dogs, Johnnie and Schooner. I always say dogs are Love Buddhas, and these two certainly prove that theory.

Johnnie on the left, Schooner on the right
Michael Phan photo


I carried him, black hairs furring my white shirt, into the back yard and sat him down on the grass between the Meyer lemon tree, redolent, and the red delicious apple tree now busting out a hundred pippins, and together in the dark we surveyed his domain.

Over there behind the prickly bush he used to spirit plastic bags, until we finally (large brains and all) figured out where all the bread was going: he was stealing it from high off the counter and sneaking it to gingerly devour in his private dining room, hidden from view, until the detritus of perhaps 40 bags (we’re slow learners) leaked out from behind the bushes and his secret was revealed.

Heads together, we looked at the blackberry brambles now filling the blank spaces between the black fence bars, the slender blueberry stems straining for fall, the tall but not yet productive pear tree. We looked at the bits of birch cones that always found their way onto his fur and into the house. This was his yard, and he sagged into my arms.

Where did those seven years go? Eight nearly, in people years, so for this sweetest black lab, was it fifty? It was a life lived at breakneck speed and long, lounging sleeps on the couch or bed, happily resting his jaw on the sofa arm, or especially as he lay down on his green checked dog bed, he moved his paw and arm over mine while I scratched his chest, and sighed that doggy sigh, heavy enough to flap his lips and make that whinny.

He struggled up, not making it, so I propped his haunches and he stuttered a step, two, resting again until I swept his old bones and blood dotted with something else and tuna-smelling breath and that curly black fur into my arms that can’t hold him enough, and held him, not enough, back inside to his bed, leaving his darkened yard behind.

He won’t be greeting me in the driveway, tearing from lawn to lawn and spinning like a dervish in love and devotion, and I won’t be chasing him back and forth like a six year old, and it’s too much for him to sneak a loaf from the table, he wouldn’t eat the pesto, even, offered like to a gouty Roman senator.

The chemo ended Friday and he was spry, Saturday he aged like clay in the oven, Sunday his right leg stopped working and his eyes sank, and Monday his rear haunches announced they no longer cared to walk. Last week he was sliding up onto the couch like old times, if no longer chasing to meet the neighbor dog at least he’d saunter.

Time is leaking out of his life faster than a bee swarm. The yellow flowers from the pepper tree out front litter the driveway, those bees are relentless, they smile their secrets into the pepper and bring forth pungent and color and a brown stain on the concrete and those yellow florets dropped onto his fur and into the house, and soon there won’t be any more spins of a dog on his lawn or on the brick living room floor and I’ll have to lay down to gather those bee’s lunch remains and pretend Johnnie will be sniffling up to lick my chin and ask for a scratch behind his ears, and these years and moments that swim before us like silvery minnows as we drink up, drink up, drink in the water of our days in the heartbeat of an old black dog.

[Originally posted on my first grapeling blog in February 2012, during Johnnie’s last days. Now it’s Schooner’s turn.]

Sherry: I am awash in tears at your loving and tender description of your boy Johnnie's final days. It is so sad that Schooner will soon be following his brother; heartbreaking that dogs do not live long enough. But such joy they bring us while they are here. Such devoted, unswerving love.

I would love to include the moving poem you wrote two years back about Schooner, if I may. 



He curls, furry, unfurls
his longest spine
like a sickle, a cup, a busker’s hat
throat rumbling for stretched fingers
stepping with strong claws
on your foot until you scratch.
His black eyes are the last
two leaves on the birch
waiting for winter to end.
Blood, bark, steady heartbeat
are yours
no matter what.

Sherry: Oh, my goodness, Michael, those two last leaves on the tree, waiting for winter! Their hearts are ours, no matter what, as no other being's is, so unconditionally. Thank you for your beautiful, moving poems, with which every dog lover can relate. 

Michael: Maybe it's because they're the better us: love without limits, eyes with no deception, and perfectly ok with eating shit and smiling about it. 

I, or my ex and sons, have had black labs for 20 years - first Bumper, then Johnnie Be Goode, then Schooner - and each of them is, of course, the best boy ever. 

Yours is too, right? 

Maybe I hedge. Maybe I say 'there's no better dog than you.' 

That way, they can all be the best, and I'm not lying. Who could lie to a dog? And if you could - well, I don't want to know you.

Somehow, Schooner has hung on, but this time, it really is the end days. So, as with Bumps and Johnnie, I hold him as tight as he lets me, and scratch his chest, and let him stand on my feet.

I think he's telling me 'Hineni'*. 

Dog speed, Schooner, and every dog I've ever loved.

(*Hineni: "Here I am, I'm ready, my Lord.")

[Note: As I was  putting this feature together, in mid-November, Michael emailed me that dear Schooner was making his way across the Rainbow Bridge to join Johnnie Be Goode.]

A boy and his dog
Schooner, on his last day

Sherry: Oh, Michael, my heart hurts for you. It is so hard to lose these beautiful souls. I found a poem written a while back for Schooner that I would love to include here, if I might.

you, love

you, love


all of us are dogs
even when we forget
to bark.
you, love
with your bright black coat
shedding in my fingers,
your rapid, shallow breathing,
stuttering, betraying legs,
furred head that smells like grape candy,
how you pin my foot with your paw
so I can’t move when I stroke your ears,
your voice a throaty, laughing growl;
how your steps are numbered;
how I will carry you to your final embrace
tomorrow, or the next.
and you, love
who stepped away yesterday
with golden-white fur long as love,
candled eyes, a voice that rarely spoke
except when I came to the door
even after years distant
to rumble greeting,
your snout nosing my knees
and your chuff a purr, as it were,
as much as a dog might;
I will forget our slow walks
when I am dirt.
        *****         *****

Sherry: Oh, my. "With golden-white fur as long as love...." Dog-love, and our love for them, is one of the purest loves around. Thank you for sharing your boys with us, Michael. Such devoted, loving beings, and too soon gone.

I hope you had your hankies handy for this one, kids. Sigh. Do come back to see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!


  1. Sigh. In tears all over again, Michael, with my own old dog lying at my feet as she makes her way through her final weeks. Thank you for sharing these poems, which touch our hearts so deeply. And the photos which give us a sense of just who these beautiful creatures were. I keep saying, dogs are Love Buddhas. They come to show us how to truly love.

  2. And I will forget these love poems when I am dirt. Sniffle. But how joyful your fully alive together days must have been.

  3. Certainly deserving of a feature - thank you both.. I think it's true that those who love animals perhaps know the most about people. And care most too. Animals enhance our lives and bring joy in dark times. The love is unconditional though still meaningful beyond words.. I hope we can always hold the little ones who helped us through specific times in our life dear.. I think each is sent for a reason with their own personalities and of course fluffy cuddles

  4. Your dog stories and poems are sheer enchantment. Thanks you for sharing this bit of you AND i have read your blogged poems and your comments to my blog under your pen name; and only today know your name. Happy to meet you up close her in the pantry Michael

    much love...

  5. Oh yes, grabbing the tissues now! But it's good to be moved by truth and love. Though I am cat-besotted, as everyone knows, I have also had and loved some wonderful dogs over the years, including my favourite animal companion ever. My present funny little cat is clearly perfect for me at this time – and I still miss the others, each unique. 'You are the best and most beautiful cat in the world,' I tell her – phrasing it so as to be truthful; those others being no longer in this world. (Not only would I not lie to her, I would not insult the spirits of those others, who might be listening. ) Like Gillena, I only knew Michael as grapeling before, whose posts and comments I enjoy – but none quite so much as the beautiful, emotional pieces shared here. Thank you Michael, thank you Sherry.

  6. Oh my goodness! I have lost two dogs (a while back) I could really feel these poems. Thank you, Sherry, for this feature; and thank you, Michael, for sharing these wonderful poems.

  7. Aren't they wonderful? Sigh. They squeeze my heart.

  8. Beautiful! Loving a dog changes you. Loosing s dog changes ... life. To have had the privilege of having a dog in your family, is to have been blessed with a great gift. A wonderful share, Michael and Sherry.

  9. this is a wonderful share Sherry...

  10. Every dog deserves its own poem. This is a testament to humanity in the best sense of the word.

  11. I had to wait a while before commenting. The tears did not want to stop. These are such beautiful poems. They say what all of us dog lovers can understand so well. Dogs touch something tender within us and give us such joy. You are right - they are love Buddhas.

    1. I know you miss your Daisy, Myrna, who left you not too long ago. I still miss Pup terribly, five years later. Sigh. They take part of our hearts with them when they go.

  12. Oh, soul-stirring poems.. and every word so true!! Beautiful. Such sentiments are normally so hard to put into words.
    Thank you for sharing it with us...

  13. Heart wrenching as I too have been through the same sadness when dogs that were a part of me walked on ahead. How beautiful this is.

  14. Such a beautiful love between human and dog..heartwarming...thanks for sharing..

  15. Lovely lovely poems, Michael and Sherry. k.

  16. Thanks, Sherry, for sharing this, and all for coming by to read ~ M

    1. It was my pleasure, Michael....and an especially heartfelt joy, as we celebrated the lives of such loving souls.

  17. I have had the heartbreak several times, and all the tearing at my guts, and crying somehow does not stop me from adopting another animal. There is no one as loyal and loving.
    Thanks, Sherry for sharing these heartfelt poems.

  18. A heartfelt interview - I enjoyed the poems filled with emotions. Michael nice to see you featured I have read some of your poetry, you have a wonderful way with words.

  19. This wrecked me, especially after having lost my own love recently. I'm very late responding to this article, but wanted to say thank you for another wonderful interview, Sherry. And thank you, Michael, for the stellar writing.


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