And Words Are All I Have


There's nothing more embarrassing
than to have earned the disfavor of a perceptive animal.

-- Michael Chabon

Our Better Angels

dog love
I read about a traffic accident in Idaho where a border collie was ejected from the rear of the vehicle. A week later the dog was discovered a hundred miles away herding sheep on a large farm.

I was late to the game in my love of animals.

I grew up in apartments where animals were not an option. When the subject arose I admitted to a certain remove.

A childhood friend's nasty chihuahah, Cindy, clamped on to my ankle once and chomped down. That didn't help. A couple of decades later and my ambivalence about animals remained.

Then came Russell, my boyfriend's eight year old Golden Retriever. Russell’s heart was the size of a subway car. He sensed my detachment and immediately set out to win me over. In a crowded room he would come to where I was sitting, and with an audible sigh of contentment hunker down and stretch out his rather ample self right across my feet.

When I awoke there was invariably a large dog lying snugly alongside me in bed, schnurfling (my coinage) contentendly.

Russell captured my heart. Simple as that. When he died many years later I was inconsolable. The grief my friends had shown over such losses in their lives no longer mystified me. Russell had taught me what they meant when they said their dogs were like family. That their cats were their solace. Or their horses. Or their gerbils.

Tabitha the cat came next, entrenching my besottedness with animals for all time.

Scrawny and trepidatious, she appeared on my back deck one bitterly cold February morning. The second she spotted me she took off and was nowhere to be seen for the rest of the day.

That night I left a bowl of tuna fish outside to lure her. The next morning the bowl was empty but no cat to be seen. I decided it was time for the big guns. I added a bowl of 18% cream to the offering, went back in, closed the door, and waited, fidgeting. When I returned after a lengthy work call I found both bowls empty and, sitting beside it, a small feline, licking her paws studiously.

Tabitha was my first cat. I was her first two-legged. We learned together how it was done. She was with me for the next 11 years. Everyone says their cat understands what they’re saying, but Tabitha, I believe, did. Most mornings upon waking I discovered her perched delicately atop my chest, paws tidily tucked in, her face up close to mine. Always gracious, she never pounced on me or disturbed me. She just ever-so-quietly appeared.

The months after my lovely father died, Tabitha sat on my desk every day while I wrote, watching me closely in between naps. This was often a favourite perch for her but never had it been day in and day out as it was then.

I would move my papers as I worked. Tabs, a bit miffed - she was, after all, a cat - would begrudgingly lift a paw or shift herself a smidgen. Every time I left my office she followed, this tiny stalwart companion who sensed my grief. No one will ever convince me otherwise.

Tabitha was to be my only cat, sadly. My allergies to her worsened severely over time and although I never had the heart to part with her, when she died I knew she was one of a kind -- in all ways.

Four wee West Highland White Terriers have followed in succession, all raised from puppydom, each one teaching me something all their own. They deserve dedicated stories here, and I’ll share some down the road.

Meanwhile... If we allowed dogs to teach us, these things we would know:
  • When loved ones come home, always run to greet them. Leave your emotional babbage behind.
  • Never say no to a roadie. Never.
  • Take naps. Often, and unapologetically.
  • Stretch leisurely and deliberately before rising.
  • Chase anything that moves. Anything.
  • Thrive on attention and annoy people until they give you some.
  • Avoid biting when a simple stink eye will do.
  • On warm days, lie on your back on the grass and find pictures of yourself catching cats in the clouds.
  • On hot days, think long and hard about putting forth a paw outdoors.
  • When you're happy, wag your entire body using your tail.
  • Delight in long walks, confident in knowing the person holding the lead is there to merely do your bidding.
  • Be loyal and don't hold grudges. You can always find new ones.
  • Never pretend to be something you're not: It's exhausting.
  • If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it. Google is a good tool.
  • When someone is having a bad day, sit close by them quietly, and nuzzle them gently.
indian ponies

I don’t know how many poets past and present are animal lovers. But judging by the preponderance of poems singing their praises I'd say the number is high.

I have gathered some of my most loved of these pieces to share with you.

Reading this first one by James Wright, are you not there in the pasture with the ponies? There, feeling and seeing everything the writer did.

"They bow shyly as wet swans"... and this... "they can hardly contain their happiness that we have come."


A Blessing

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

~~ James Wright

I never owned horses but I have always felt drawn to them
and have photographed them over the years.
Here is one of my poems about them.

Equine Therapy

They remember you:
Their heightened perception always at work,
An enigmatic sixth sense,
So rare in humans.
They open wide their huge liquid alien eyes,
Shift quietly in their stalls.
Their huge nostrils flare in welcome
At your approach.
For you carry with you
The scent,
Indelible in their memory,
Of someone once kind to them.
Astride their backs
We borrow their majesty.
Astride them,
We borrow freedom.

~~ Tricia McCallum

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean--
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down--
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

~~ Mary Oliver

The Name of the Air

It could be like that then the beloved
old dog finding it harder and harder
to breathe and understanding but coming
to ask whether there is something that can
be done about it coming again to
ask and then standing there without asking.

~~ W.S. Merwin

Life Expectancy

On the morning of a birthday that ended in a zero,
I was looking out at the garden
when it occurred to me that the robin
on her worm-hunt in the dewy grass
had a good chance of outliving me,
as did the worm itself for that matter
if he managed to keep his worm-head down.

It was not always like this.
For decades, I could assume
that I would be around longer
than the squirrel dashing up a tree
or the nightly raccoons in the garbage,
longer than the barred owl on a branch,
the ibis, the chicken, and the horse,

longer than four deer in a clearing
and every creature in the zoo
except the elephant and the tortoise,
whose cages I would hurry past.
It was just then in my calculations
that the cat padded noiselessly into the room,
and it seemed reasonable,

given her bright eyes and glossy coat,
to picture her at my funeral,
dressed all in black, as usual,
which would nicely set off her red collar,
some of the mourners might pause in their grieving to notice,
as she found a place next to a labradoodle
in a section of the church reserved for their kind.

~~ Billy Collins

The Circus of Inconsolable Loss

There is only one ring for those sweating horses with the preternaturally
flat backs and the fat smooth rumps from which ladies
in stained tights vault onto the sawdust
or another horse.
Only one ring for the hung-over clowns and their Volkswagen,
a car so old it must be pushed into the one ring
which is also the one for the acrobats and the tigers and contortionists
and dogs that walk on their hind legs,
then stop to scratch their necks, itchy under spangled ruffs. Above them
wire walkers and trapeze guys swing,
mayfly-graceful. Under them the one ring
reminds the audience to celebrate, each in their own
constrained and special way,
the emptiness they’ve come to in the spaces where other rings should be.

~~ Wendy Taylor Carlisle

My relationships with my cats has saved me from a deadly, pervasive ignorance.

~~William S. Burroughs

I am still under the impression that there is nothing alive
quite so beautiful as a horse.
~~ John Galsworthy

Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened.
Anatole France

pencil drawing red heart

I am here, listening. Share your own stories with me, gentle reader.
tricia handwritten signature

Recent Post


Simply too good not to share.. Bioluminescence There’s a dark so deep beneath the sea the creatures beget their own light. This feat, this fact of adaptation, I could say, is beautiful though the creatures are hideous. Lanternfish. Hatchetfish. Viperfish. I, not unlike them, forfeited beauty to glimpse the world hidden by eternal darkness. I subsisted on falling matter, unaware …
Jello 🌊
woman solitary

Book Sales

The Music of Leaving, my collection of poetry, is available to order.
Order directly online — for both Canada and U.S. orders — from Amazon, Brunswick and Demeter.
The Music of Leaving - Tricia McCallum

Poetry goes social...

facebook twitter instagram youtube