Notes on Writing: On the Day of Mingus's Death

Posted by Michael Borshuk On 10:31 PM

Words fail me. They’ve always failed me. In moments of crisis, when my grief is most profound, I long to open up some part of me, to find some unforeseen inspiration that will allow me to express the anguish I feel within. Yet nothing I write ever seems to approach a satisfying revelation of the pain that lies inside. No sentences I can craft evoke the burn within my chest.

My dog of twelve years has died.

All the clichés about dogs are true, of course. They’re wonderful animals because they give so much but ask for so little. Mine was content with a daily walk, with two meals, with the occasional biscuit—to reward waiting for wet paws to be wiped on rainy days, or to be baited back indoors on obstinate afternoons when he roamed the yard in his own sure way. And in the best cliché fashion, he was my faithful companion, man’s best friend, beginning on my 21st birthday, and offering unbound joy and good company until this morning, when he died in my arms, two days before Christmas, just weeks before my 33rd birthday. He was the tripping presence underfoot when I cooked dinner in the evenings; he was the celebratory barker when I cheered on my beloved sports teams; he was the warm body at the end of the bed on nights when I’d otherwise have slept alone.

Those people who don’t like dogs—those folks whom I’ve always had trouble trusting, frankly—won’t understand why I’m writing now. They’ll fail to understand the need for a public tribute, in writing, for a fallen dog. They’d scoff maybe at the spectacle of a grown man weeping all day for an animal gone. But I cry without shame. And I indulge that seering pain. Me, who makes sarcastic jokes about the maudlin, who tries to turn a stoic eye to the hysterical and the sickly sweet.

I write, and I yearn for one more walk with him at dusk, or to once more yell for quiet from a dog who barked to express himself, and whose voice operated only at loud volumes. It’s people who stir me to sarcastic barbs, really; it’s people with all our vanity and our occasional malice and our petty shortcomings who pique my cynical nerve.

Dogs I have no trouble weeping for. And it’s this dog—my dog! my sweet neurotic beloved dog, so like his master in his worried brown eyes, and his love for food, and his comic fixations, and his irrational fears—to whom I pay unabashed tribute as the day of his death recedes.

It was in the company of my dog, that perfect example of nature’s grace, and life’s potential, that I experienced such dizzying heights of love. And now, in the loss of his company, such profoundly moving depths of grief.

For Mingus, beloved golden retriever (10 December 1994-23 December 2006). I miss you. Good boy.

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MICHAEL BORSHUK is Associate Professor of African American Literature at Texas Tech University. He is the author of SWINGING THE VERNACULAR: JAZZ AND AFRICAN AMERICAN MODERNIST LITERATURE (Routledge, 2006), and numerous essays, reviews, and encyclopedia entries on African American literature, American modernism, and music. For ten years, from 1999 to 2009, he wrote on jazz regularly for CODA MAGAZINE. His fiction has appeared in ANTIGONISH REVIEW, DALHOUSIE REVIEW, ELYSIAN FIELDS QUARTERLY, SHORT STORY, and 34TH PARALLEL.

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