Waiting for his favorite servant




My sister sent me this poem, which was featured dramatically in Godless [1], after a life Sekhnet and I both loved ended, like a candle blown out as gently as possible.   It is a beautiful poem and touches that climbing sorrow we feel at the death of those we deeply love, sorrow that crushes the lungs and makes breathing hard, the shadow of our own death drawing close.  Not only sorrow but the awe and terror we foolish mortals feel when death takes a soul we love.  I had difficulty reading it aloud to Sekhnet last night.  Today I am practicing.

Tis a Fearful Thing

Tis a fearful thing
to love what death can touch.

A fearful thing
to love, to hope, to dream, to be –
to be
and, oh, to lose.

A thing for fools, this,
And a holy thing,
a holy thing,
to love.

For your life has lived in me,
your laugh has lifted me,
your word was gift to me.

To remember this brings painful joy.

Tis a human thing, love,
a holy thing,
to love
what death has touched.

Yehuda HaLevi (1075 [or 1086]- 1141)

After my mother died, years of denying her approaching death from an aggressive, eventually untreatable cancer finally done, I was alone in her apartment.  I’d been alone there for the several days she was in hospice, but each previous night my mother had been alive.  Now I was alone in her apartment in the dark night and she was gone. 

I walked from room to room, looking at her things, the paintings she’d done that were on the walls, her books, the collected owl figurines in their custom-built glass and metal case.   

At one point I went into her walk-in closet, a little room where she must have gotten dressed after her shower.   Her housecoat and nightgowns were hanging on hangers along with her other clothes.  Her special orthopedic shoes were lined up on a shelf near the floor.  Her family photo albums were arranged on a high shelf.  The air in there smelled like the powder she dusted herself with.   The little room smelled like my mother.  My breath suddenly caught in my chest.  I felt like no air would ever go into my body again.  I felt overwhelmed by the grievous irrevocability of death, the reality that I would never see my mother again.   I stood there for a long moment, unable to take in a breath, sobbed hard for a few seconds, and walked back into the other room, probably to tap at the computer, as I am tapping now.



[1] a gripping drama, set in the old West, on Netflix

How You Do It

“What difference did it make to Azrael?” I asked him, when he told me how upset Azrael had been when an insect drowned in hot water while he was running a bath.   

“I asked him that after he came out of the bathroom,” he said.  “He’d been running hot water to rinse the tub when a bug he realized was alive a moment too late to save it died a horrible, plunging, drowning death in the pipes.    What he said to explain it to me was so simple it still strikes me.   He said ‘picture your own moment of death — would you like it instant and painless or prolonged and painful?’  I always think of that when I kill a bug, to this day.  That bug desperately swimming for his life away from the sucking drain could have instantly been put out of his mortal terror and unavoidable death by a merciful finger.  

“Azrael had been too slow to react when he saw the bug, at first he didn’t realize it was even alive.  Then he saw it struggling to swim in the hot water away from the drain.  Then he’d watched the bug get swept over Niagra Falls to die an agonizing death by drowning in the churning, unbearably hot water.  It impressed me how awful he felt about not sparing that bug such a miserable death.”  

“Instant and painless or prolonged and painful,” I said.  “I like that.  A no-brainer for a marketing/branding scheme exploiting that no-brainer:   ‘Quick/no pain or slow/maximum pain, your choice.’  It’s appealingly philosophical, too.”    

“Of course, life is not so black and white,” he said.  

“Exactly, which is why such idiotically phrased choices are so irresistible, anyone who’d choose the wrong choice is so obviously wrong.   I like the phrase, and I think we can monetize it, I think it’s a good choice phrase,” I said.  “Plenty of imagery and punch, the rubes will love it.”

“The phrase is fine, monetize away, I’m just sayin’,” he said.  

“You know, it’s not like Azrael was exactly into Ahimsa or any ascetic religious practice that would have made him so sensitive to a bug’s soul.  He ate meat, he’d curse, he was always rough breaking up a fight,” I said.   “He certainly didn’t shrink from hurting anybody.”

“He didn’t, but when you say Azrael ate meat, that’s funny, yeah, he ate meat.  He lived on meat, ate almost nothing besides meat.   He was a shoichet’s assistant, at a place down the street from the butcher’s, from shortly after his bar mitzvah, if I recall correctly, until he started working at the delicatessen,” my brother reminded me.  

“He was one tough son of a bitch,” I said.  

“Yiss,” he said.  

“And he always kept a dog.”  We both remembered Azrael’s dogs.

“Yiss,” my brother said.

How It’s Done

Our cat is dying of kidney disease, it’s chronic and incurable.  The vet told us we could keep him around for a while by sticking a needle into the skin of his back every day, attached to a line and a bag of liquid, and pumping some hydration into him.  In his experience, he said, cats in The Baron’s condition usually live six months to two years.   The Baron has only one kidney, it was discovered recently, but he’s been doing pretty well on the cat dialysis. [1]  Once he starts losing weight, the vet told us, the end is approaching.   

He lost his appetite back in June, a month or so into his kidney treatments.  The vet prescribed a drug called Mirtazapine, developed as an anti-depressant for humans, that is a known appetite stimulant for dogs and cats.  The Baron will not be forced to take a pill, but a vet tech, after wrestling with the determined cat to give him a pill, told us this drug also comes in a transdermal form, you rub it into the skin.   The only place a cat has skin is the pinna, the furless area inside each ear.   Presumably the pads of the feet are also skin, but the cat or dog would lick it off and the drug would not have the desired effect. 

We ordered the transdermal Mirtazapine from a formulary in Arizona, and after a stressful week or two of hassles,  the cat listless and eating very little, spoke directly to the pharmacist, Ashley, who was great.  She contacted the cat’s vet and immediately formulated the proper dose for his age and weight.  It arrived shortly after, in a pen that dispenses a perfect dose of the goop.  I massaged a small gob into his pinna, and soon his old appetite was back.   He gets the drug every three days, and his appetite and weight have been consistent.  The hydration, the cat dialysis [1], has been working pretty well so far and his quality of life is pretty good.  If you didn’t know he had a punched one-way ticket on the death express you’d think he was fine.   

He still cuddles affectionately with his female slave, Sekhnet, once all the lights are out, and he still puckishly claws and bites the hand of his male slave, when it lingers too long after giving him some treats or for the intolerable crime of attempted petting.  I sometimes point out to him that he is literally biting the hand that feeds him, but he glares at me so there will be no mistake: there’s more bloodshed in my immediate future if I continue trying to talk irony with him.  I have the scrimshaw on my hands and forearms to prove I’m not making this up.  Sekhnet always gets a good laugh out of my squeal of shock every time I repeat this timeless ritual with the imperious [2], well-armed Baron and get slashed by a fishing hook claw or cobra fang tooth – an always amusing example of the unlearned lessons of history, I suppose. 

The Mirtazapine pen was marked “Days supply 180”.  60 doses, three days apart.  I keep a chart on the wall to keep track of how many doses we give him and we were up to dose 45.  But the pen was empty.  I emailed Ashley, succinctly stating the facts and what we needed, trying not to sound peevish, and she got right on it.  The drug was formulated and in the mail overnight.   

Naturally, there was no explanation or any hint of an apology.  This is standard operating procedure in our culture, so it was no surprise.  The important thing was that we had the drug the next day, overnighted for the regular shipping cost.  Skaynes got his dose, a day and a half late, but, sure enough, his appetite returned. 

Here’s the thing that tickled and irritated me, both.   The information on the label on the new pen was identical to the printing on the first.  Only one detail was gone.  “Days supply 180”.  No promise, no basis for complaint for broken promise.  Like the uncertain duration of life itself, there was now no promise made, once it was pointed out that the earlier promise had been as solid and unimpeachable as a tweet from our current commander-in-chief.

[1] Sekhnet who is “in the business of accuracy”, as she says, points out that this is not dialysis in any sense of the word.  The cat’s blood is not purified by the process, he is merely getting hydration that relieves some of the stress on his kidney.

[2]  I get a great kick out of dictionary definitions sometimes.  My favorite is the great definition of “squeamish” from the dictionary I had in high school.   “Exhibiting a prudish readiness to be nauseated.”   Fucking genius.   I can’t accurately quote a line of Shakespeare, even those I love the most, but, like many TV commercials heard as a kid that I can recite verbatim, I’ll never forget that great definition.

I looked up “imperious” just now, since I am also in the business of accuracy, and before a great series of synonyms describing the Baron’s attitude toward his staff, was this thought-provoking definition: 

assuming power or authority without justification; arrogant and domineering.

“his imperious demands”

synonyms:  peremptory, commanding, imperial, high-handed, overbearing, overweening, domineering, authoritarian, dictatorial, autocratic, authoritative, lordly, assertive, bossy, arrogant, haughty, presumptuous 

What I love is the “without justification”.   Isn’t human history a continuous bloody scroll of those who assume power and authority without justification?   

Kings ruled by Divine Right, God gave them their indisputable powers, no matter how they came to the throne, God himself justified their bossiness.  Likewise hereditary ruling pricks like Barons and Lords derived their power from long custom, backed by force of arms.  The power to kill you, or have you whipped, is a pretty convincing justification for assuming power and authority, I guess.  “The consent of the governed” is the current fiction in democracy, but as far as “justification” look no further than these universally despised, or at least supremely disappointing, folks we have out there exercising power and authority, torturing some folks in our name and deciding how many poor people will need to die early so the super-rich can be even richer.

On a Lighter Note

Our thirteen year-old cat, Skaynes, recently diagnosed with a fatal and irreversible disease, chronic renal failure, just hopped up on to his feeding post and looked at me expectantly.   His appetite has been spotty lately, but he still shakes us down for treats, even if he doesn’t always eat them.  I took a break from thoroughly cleaning his litter boxes to find out what he wanted as a snack.

I took down the box of his various treats, and, as I offered the first to him, he sunk his grey fangs into my wrist.  I pointed out to him that he was literally biting the hand that was trying to feed him, but he was unimpressed.  He bit my wrist again, by way of reply.  He bit it every time I tried to place his treat in front of him.  We often refer to him as The Baron.  This was certainly baronial behavior, it seems to me.  

Thinking of fucking barons, those born booted and spurred to ride and rape the rest of us, reminded me of this lighter note, such as it is.

Farmers used to love Thomas Jefferson, they saw him as a fellow farmer.  I heard a quote of old TJ’s yesterday, a wonderful quote by the old agrarian.  

“Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God.” [1]

I know it’s wrong, and I couldn’t help myself, but I started thinking of the rest of the quote, lost to posterity:  “and I should know, bitch, I own more than three hundred of them!”  

Just then his beautiful half-sister-in-law (his wife and her had the same white father) and long-time mistress Sally, a piece of his personal property, in both senses of the word, walked by.  

“Got to go now, bitches,” said the Author of Liberty with a wink, a man way, way ahead of his time.


[1]   It goes without saying (he said) that Jefferson held this truth to be as self-evident as the proposition that all men are created equal.