the seconds


The Seconds
Derek Sheffield

Last patches of snow all but gone and first
wildflowers flecking the lawn, I walked out
to the shed and pulled open the door
with a woody squeak, and there, rising from the dirt floor,
surrounded by a dusty clutter of tools,
a little mountain, the kind of thing my daughters
might have scooped together in the fall and left
for the faeries if it weren’t a perfectly conical accretion
of turds. What to make of such a thing,
holding the door, and beholding it in the spill
of the first light—and then I knew
the droppings. Here she was, my old dog,
that golden shuffle of paling wheat fields who’d retrieved
and licked clean how many rocks thrown from this hand?
What was left of her, here. What creature
had carried each dried nub from the yard’s
far corners to form this strange cairn? There,
under the nail-hung weed whacker, my grease rag
on the floor pressed flat: a little bed I kneeled to touch.
Something had curled here in the gasolined nights
all winter as snow and more snow made a world
of white mounds. I walked around back,
searching for a gap, and stopped mid-step—
a big, squirrel-like bulk on my scrap wood,
the black, unblinking shine of a left eye
tilted toward mine. No glimmer of flight in that orb,
no twitch of scurry, only the deepest calm
as if the ages of the earth were taking my measure.
I felt like a pane of glass even as I took all I could
of it, its weight and whiskers and wide, rounded ears,
a long bottlebrush tail stretched out over my pile
of sawed lengths of lumber and plywood,
and later I would look for it in a book among my stacks.
That night, after I turned out the lights,
and my daughters asked for another story,
I told them of its midden while I sat on their floor,
becoming another dark shape among the heaps
of their clothes and stuffed animals; at first, “Eww!”
and then only the sounds of breathing as they remembered
their old dog, those restless slopes that passed
through their arms, the river sounds she made
licking those rocks to death. Let us not let go
ever, is what I took from your cave-wall stare,
wood rat, who would grab every bloody tooth
my girls have tucked under their pillows, pack rat,
who would make hill after hill of all the years
of their homework, vestigial historian, who’d cleave
to the locks of do-it-yourself haircuts and clutch
every tremor of their changing voices, their first words,
every shape and shade of their widening gazes,
and all the hard shit, too, the nights of no sleep,
the wet beds and fits and screams, slammed doors
and shaken fists (how long have you been with us?
how many iterations of you and them and me?),
even as you turned at last toward the woods
behind our house and slowly, one careful step
at a time, slipped away as if you’d already
snatched all the rain-colored seconds
from all the clocks that ever were or will be.


Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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