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Song of the Empathetic Beast (an elegy)
by Susan McCaslin, Langley BC

The following was written in memory of Mark & Susan’s beloved miniature
Australian shepherd Penny, who was struck and killed by a truck in front of
their home on the night of Dec. 27, 2015.

Life on earth is more like a verb. It repairs,
maintains, re-creates, and outdoes itself.

                                           – Lynn Margulis



A luminous fox
brown, white, and amber
huddles in our dog’s fur

Night wind summons her
eyes to the moon
where her howls erupt as music

wilding our domesticity


This Oak Bay beach where I walk
is skin holding my skin

holding foot nerves
that no longer sign their signals as before

Yet on the night after the night she died
my small brown dog curled

at my feet at the foot of the bed
where she had curled before

still sniffing and crooning
She with her wisdom neurons

nosed deep past skin and bone
to lick the numbness from my feet

Cell to cell microbial touch
in the mystery of her sweet black nose

her laving tongue
where she keened at my feet

her sea-riffled song—
song of the empathetic beast


My husband and I wade in a Cariboo Lake
within his dream. A whir, a break in clouds.
He points skyward, dark spots, soon a flock,
a troop. Bald eagles ride in vector-shape
(like geese, but eagles flocking in a V?).
Circling fierceness makes us cower like mice.
Two leaders plummet, yet no talons tear.
Instead their feathery cape of wings wraps round
our heads, our shoulders, lost in soft embrace,
such gentleness, the strange largesse of power.
Weeks later Penny slaughtered by a truck,
daughter’s car totalled, our house vandalized.
We wonder how this emissary dream
held precognition, consolation—awe.


In the photo, hunched
at our red canoe’s prow

Penny rides. A red patch
gleams at the back of her neck

small as a copper penny then—
soon to grow full span

She gazes across
Young Lake in the Cariboo

where taunting loons
draw from her throat

her own primal yip

                                     Susan McCaslin

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"In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."
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"The civilized have created the wretched, quite coldly and deliberately, and do not intend to change the status quo; are responsible for their slaughter and enslavement; rain down bombs on defenseless children whenever and wherever they decide that their "vital interests" are menaced, and think nothing of torturing a man to death: these people are not to be taken seriously when they speak of the 'sanctity' of human life, or the 'conscience' of the civilized world." - James Baldwin, Source: page 489 of COLLECTED ESSAYS (1998), from chapter one of "The Devil Finds Work" (orig. pub. 1976)

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