For the leaf

Finian is definitely a smart guy.

He learned shake immediately. All I have to do is put my hand near him now and he lifts his paw. And waits for a treat.

And when I pick up the spray bottle to counter his whining, he ducks his head, lowers his eyelids. He knows he can’t avoid getting hit if I push the trigger, but the abused look in his face might just be enough to stop me in my tracks. It usually is.

But in spite of this, I just started to wonder if something was missing up there.

We were on one of our slow walks. The ones where we amble along at a 1 mph pace, stopping to smell every rock and dead worm along the way.

Then, there it was. I saw it first. A leaf, suspended as if floating. Spinning in the air, attached, invisibly but firmly, to the end of a broken spider web.

Finian saw it too. He turned from the stray cat hair that had his attention. He spied the leaf. And bit it.

Surprisingly, and unlike all other leaves, it bounced away.

So he bit it again. This time it flew back behind him. In the dusk of a summer night, impossible to see where it went. He looked around. And around (in the entirely wrong direction). I watched it twirling just behind his head.

And then, he found it! Bit for it. This time, it appeared he had it. He sat down with it in his mouth, triumphant.

Until it flew off again.

This only went on for five minutes. Because that was when I decided it was time to move on a few feet.

So I started to wonder: maybe, his genius in some areas notwithstanding, maybe something was missing.

It was the same with his foodball. Every day, twice a day, he batted at it, ecstatic at every nugget that came out. No trying different techniques. No change in emotion from start to finish. No frustration at the times no food came out. No higher excitement when five nuggets fell out at once.

“Look, he stops when there’s nothing left in the ball. He’s smart. He knows.” My boyfriend had a higher view of his talents than I did.

So I showed him the leaf biting incident, on iphone video. I thought that would prove it.

“Maybe he’s not in it for the leaf.”


“Maybe he’s not trying to eat the leaf. Maybe he wants something else.”

Not for the goal?

“Like when he bites my foot. He just lets it go when he gets it, so he can jump for it again.”

You mean just for fun?

I don’t write without someplace to put it. However long that may take. Or spend time running, meditating, showering, sleeping, just about anything, without some result in mind.

Finian it seems is just the opposite.  If I take him running in the park at 6am, he lags behind, walking dutifully fast but never running.  Why are we doing this? This is not fun. Until he sees that duck up ahead. Now we are having fun.

There is nothing fun about a bath. Who needs to get clean? And to relax? There are a million better ways to relax than that.

And the point of sleeping? No point. But after a hard day at daycare, just awesome.

Maybe he’s not missing anything. Maybe it’s me. Yet again.


A Moment

Doing good doesn’t always work out the way you planned it.

You want to save the world, and you end up at an office job.

You want to help kids, and you find yourself shown up by a middle schooler who you’re supposed to be tutoring, but whose mathematics is better than yours. (You end up going to a movie instead.)

Someone asks you to do a random act of kindness. Just one day. It could be anyone, anything, at any time.

But the lady behind you on the line at Starbucks is wearing a coach bag. At the dog park, for once there’s no evidence of anything dog parents have ‘accidentally’ left behind. And the elderly man getting off  the elevator looks like he is enjoying what time he’s got left to walk unsupported, even if his legs do shake a little as he goes.

Or you sign up to volunteer at a hospital.

Once a week you go there, walk in past the wheelchairs and oxygen tanks, past the families on couches eating vending machine snacks, past the updates being passed on from cell phones, past the air made up of so many people holding their breath, and the sound of past and present laughs and tears and whispers, past the doors that people have walked through once – or a hundred times.

But there’s not much good to do.

You give a blanket to a mother who’s fallen asleep by her son’s bedside. You take a message to a patient’s friend. You ask if the sibling would like some toys. You get them a cup of coffee no one drinks.

Three hours is a long time.

And then one day, you walk in, as you always do, and the nurse points to Room 301.

“Hey, can you go in there?”


“New one. Premature”

What do you want me to do?

“Just hold him.”

Three hours is just a moment.


How to Watch Someone Three Days Old


Begin with blankets

torn from a heartbeat and left for the wash

Shut out afternoon and listen

for something occasional

   the scratch of a bell

Without wrinkling

there is life after all

   breath on a vastness of cotton

Come in lose yourself in

the smooth mask of unmatched beginnings

but give in

   to the intimacy of checking and you will miss

The slippered blue unfurling

From here it is all movement

a cocoon unravels, grows the tightened harmonies of grocery store cries

Be first without fading flannel slides like water

Crunch him

Let him rock on the waves of sifted air

   leafed in the clovered comfort of swaying

When your arms stale, know they have years to stretch

   What clings a minute?

Last in this accident of weight

-darcy miller


Sir Finn

I would never claim that animals don’t have feelings.

Besides the fact that my animal rights lobbyist brother would cut me out of the family, it would just leave too many questions in life unanswered.

Like the two flies I watched going at it this weekend on my porch railing.  It went on so long, I finally had to go in to get some water. I mean, no one can tell me that fly wasn’t feeling full on joy.

And the cat who sits in my driveway, taunting me to run it over.  I’m sure his glance at me as I turn on the car exudes a combination of anger at all the past car owners who have come close, and love (of himself – like all cats).

And my puppy, Sir Finian as he’s called, certainly would agree.

There is no denying the happiness he feels when he senses a new bully stick has entered the house.  Although he didn’t seem to sense my sadness and hurt when my vegan sister-in-law informed me what bully sticks actually were,  and I realized that, as disgusting as that was,  as the mother of a hyperactive, high chewing dog, I now had no choice.

And he clearly has strong emotions when  he is growled at to get off the couch.  Especially as he has been sitting there undisturbed for hours while everyone else was fast asleep. Is it anger? Or grief.

But, even with all those feelings going in and out of his tiny heart and soul, I am pretty sure that he doesn’t feel shame.

Lucky guy.

The scene:  Dog park. Afternoon.  It is sunny. Groups of dogs, people, children, balls, plastic baggies scatter about.

The action: Finian arrives. Frustratingly still on the leash, he lunges forward, then waits. He knows what he must do. He sits. The leash is released. Free at last.

He proceeds to run up to every person, one by one. Stopping just long enough for a pet. Just to know that he’s been seen and loved. Then, move on.

There is always the possibility that one or more of these people won’t love him. They might not be thrilled with a feisty, vocal puppy running into their laps unasked, pawing at their chests, and smooching them.  Even at a dog park, people vary in their needs for boundaries, and cleanliness.   Usually though, he is petted, hugged, loved. Sometimes he is ignored. Occasionally he even gets the swipe – “Get that pest away.”

If the roles were reversed,  my first action would be to leave the dog park (or the date) immediately. No time to ask why.  To wrap my head around the unforeseen rejection that had just occurred. Just go. And try not to have a car acident on the way home.

Finian, however, feels none of this. Rejected? Okay. Try someone else.

And then, five minutes later, try again.

And again.

No matter what the ratio of loves to rejections, he is still 100% game to give it a try. He seems to come, every afternoon, with the assumption that everyone loves him. That’s just the starting point. And well, if they don’t – there’s so many more dogs, people…peanut butter treats…  in the world.

The same goes with his activities at home.  Now  the couch has never been an approved resting area for animals. But he will get up there and settle in every chance he can – i.e. when I am in the shower or in bed, so a low probability of my time gone being too brief for couch time to be worthwhile.

But, eventually, I finish sleeping, and come into the living room, see him on the couch, and – and this is always the same – growl at him to get down. Which, after stretching into a langorous cat/caw pose, he does.  I don’t say ‘bad dog’ anymore, which I learned from my grandmother. I think I learned it because I heard her say it so many times (clearly it wasn’t working).  But a dog knows when you’re not pleased.

He jumps down, sits on his bed.

And then, two minutes later, tries again.

Huh. She doesn’t want me up there. Okay, I guess I have to get down. Let me just stretch first, just to let her know that even if I am doing what she tells me to, she is not in charge. I am. And  always will be.

Okay, here you go. See? I’m good.  It’s not so bad down here. Not as nice as the couch though.

Oh, wait. She just went back in the bedroom. I think I’ll get up on the couch again.

Shoot, here she comes. Down again.  Yeah, I’ll close my eyes, if it makes you feel better. I can rest here too.

Oh, wait – did she just go where I think she went? Okay, bend the knees, big breath…

I just have this feeling that if someone told me ‘that’s bad, that’s wrong, I hate it when you do that, you can’t do that, get off, that’s mine not yours, just stop it already’ over two hundred times in the span of a year, I’d start to feel  kind of bad. And even if I didn’t feel bad for doing it, even if I never questioned my authority or knowledge to know what was best and right in the world, even if I felt no emotion from the fact that the person who fed me, bathed me, and was responsible for the maintenance of my life was continuously and consistently telling me that my behavior was unpleasant and unlikable, I still might think,  ‘you know what,  it might be easier to just not do this.’. Or at least, only do it when I knew I wouldn’t be interrupted.

No shame.

No shame at his incessant need for food, regardless of whether he’s hungry or not. Of his obvious peanut butter addiction. Of the way his lip gets stuck on his teeth because of a mild deformity (his overbite).  Of whether he’s gained or lost weight, made or lost friends, caught the ball or missed it, learned a new skill or learned nothing.

There is a way people sleep. When they have had the fullest of days, accomplished that huge task they had been working on, planning, putting off, afraid they might fail at, worked up to, and finally tackled – and succeeded.  Happy but spent, they come home, have a good meal, a drink, a shower, get into some cozy pajamas and climb under clean covers, curl up and close their eyes, content. At last, fully peaceful, they can rest.

Every day Finian tackles his food puzzle, eats every morsel out of it. Chews on a stick. Pulls on his leash. Then, exhausted from a long day, digs at his pillow to make an invisible nest, and curls up and closes his eyes.  Doesn’t matter what the day brought, hardship or ease, challenge or gentleness.

Fully peaceful, he can rest.

goodbye, or something like it


I try to do what the dog trainer tells me. Consistency, boundaries, focus.  Tin foil to keep him off the couch, frozen cottage cheese to keep him occupied, a special t-shirt to keep him relaxed. All the right things. You have to follow all the rules when you’re a terrier’s mom.

It’s the goodbye rule I haven’t learned.

You’re supposed to just walk out the door. A quick careless wave. A “hey, see you later.” No monologues about how much you’ll miss him. No long glances back behind you. But you’ve given him his favorite toy, made it to the door, and you, just quickly, look back. There he is, the toy left unattended, staring at you.

You just walk out the door. This is what you’re supposed to do.


On YouTube, there is a video someone sent me. A camera set up to capture a hummingbird nest. It was set there from the moment the mother built it, so if you’re patient enough to watch from the beginning, you can see the whole thing. Sitting on the eggs. Sitting some more. Then, at 8:22, you watch them being born.


In Finian’s head, there is not the fantasy about the car going too fast that hits you on your way to work. That rare burst of lightning that strikes you on your lunch break. Or the workplace shooting in your tiny office. If you walk out the door, all you’re really doing is walking out the door.

It is exhausting to think of the future.


Person, bark. Ow. Shoot. Totally got sprayed with water by mom.

Hey, look, Person!  Bark. Owww. Man. Wet again.

Person. Ouch! Hey… wait…

Person, bark – yep. That’s right. I’m thinking…

Person. Bar- Wait. Nope, not gonna do it.

No spraying??


Person, ba-

Person. Pause. (Keep pausing.)

Oh, man. It makes my head spin.

Can we go HOME now? I’m tired. I can’t walk anymore. I can’t.

I think I’m just going to lay down by this extremely loud lawn mower. Is that a squirrel there, a foot away from me? Oh well, so it is. That’s all right. Just going to close my eyes here for a minute…

I have left already, grabbed my suitcases, done the correct goodbye. But it eats away at me, the images. Finian sitting there in the dark, lost, alone. The week apart in which so much could happen (planes falling, poisonous bug bites, ice cream from spoiled milk). I need a real goodbye.

We drive all the way back across town. He sits at the top of the stairs, blinking at me from half-closed eyes. I pick him up, hold onto him tight. He sits there like someone doing a yoga pose for the first time. When can I get out of this? Uhh. So uncomfortable.I tell him all about how long I will be gone, who will be with him when I’m away, what we’ll do when I get back. He looks over at his bed. Actually, he stretches his whole body towards it. I push him gently down onto my lap. He pops right back up.


I let him go. He trots over to his bed, curls up, his head on his arm. One last look over at me, before he drifts into sleep.

I pick up my bag, close the door behind me.


It was a live feed once on the hummingbird nest. You can watch the clock running at the bottom of the screen. It’s fuzzy, not a perfect picture. The mother flies off at 10:18. Comes back at 14:23.

It’s not live anymore. If you scroll down, you can read the comments:

At 20:12, you can watch her feed them!

At 25:50, they go to sleep!

At 1:15:42, a hawk flies in and grabs them!

At 1:15:43, both birds are gone.


But I am only at 1:12:02. The mother has flown off again. The two birds sit there.


You’ve traveled a long way, been with her not long enough. And already it’s time to come home.

You lie down beside her on the bed, feel her body (you can feel the bones now and almost like the organs underneath too, there is so little in there, just these, and all forcing pushing toward the surface as if there were nothing left inside to keep them in).

How do they make sick rooms so quiet? Just the air conditioner, the softest one you’ve ever heard.

What do you say?

I want to come again soon.

If I’m here.


You’ve already said the care, need, love, want too many times over to keep it real. But you say some or all of that again.

The old digital clock turns over another number. Actually it’s turned over more, you’ve missed quite a few. Where were you for all those?

Most times it still feels awkward to you to be so close to her (or anyone’s) breath. This isn’t the time for that.

You’re everywhere, you know that? Like everywhere.

We did so much together, didn’t we.

I’m not ready.

So much fun.

You’re in me. Like in here, inside.

What time do you have to go?

When they call.

Wherever you go, I’ll always be there. Right there.


 At home, six o’clock is always dinner time.

Is that my food ball? Yes, that IS what she’s filling up on the counter over there! My favorite too! YES!!!


The hummingbirds aren’t moving.  You have to check at the very bottom and see is the time clock still going, or did you accidentally hit pause?

Yes, it is – 1:15:34…1:15:39…


So quiet. The air conditioner.

You wait for the ring.