Death in Mexico

Jake can make a pillow out of anything.

Jake can make a pillow out of anything.

Poetry is preparation for death. Nadezhda Mandelstam

I’ve known more death while living in Mexico than in the rest of my years combined. Since moving here, I’ve lost my Grandfather and Grandmother, my stepfather, my constant companion of 24 years, my cat Elizabeth, Elvis, numerous farm animals whose lives were my responsibility, and this week, my dog Jake.

Perhaps it’s because, as Octavio Paz claims, “one of the most notable characteristics of the Mexican is his willingness to contemplate horror.” How is it my losses relate to this statement? Because in Mexico, I cannot avoid death as I was before.
I once had two very old cats. One of them, Gordy, was euthanized due to declining health and my rationalization that he was suffering. But after his death, I knew it wasn’t true. He wasn’t in pain, he was dying, and I didn’t want to watch it because I loved him, and it hurt and scared me. I didn’t want to have to call in sick to work because my cat died, so I scheduled his death for my convenience and to avoid my own suffering.

When I moved to Mexico, I brought Elizabeth with me, determined to allow her her own death. The three days she faded away were excruciating for me. She was tranquil. Still, there were times I turned away from her I wish I had not.
When Elvis died, though it was a horrible death, I didn’t avoid one second of our last moments together. I fought to save him and failed. I held him as he bled his life away on me, I kissed him and told him how good he was, and he died with the sound of my calm, adoring voice in his ear. It was my most genuine Mexican, possibly my most human, moment to date.
There are some obvious reasons for this glut of death that haven’t anything to do with Mexico. I’m aging, and so are my loved ones, and death is an integral aspect of farm life. And yet, though it may be a poet’s perverse romanticism, it seems to me that in Mexico, death is more accepted as part of life.
Though I hope to someday experience Laurie Anderson’s explanation: “Death is a release of love” (perhaps at my own death), so far, this is what I’ve learned. Death touts regret but is about forgiveness. Death is helplessness. Forgiveness is the anecdote, acceptance the balm. In these moments when I tried and failed or was without recourse, I felt the futility of life completely and inexplicably —the splendor, and with that, I went on.

Felipe and Jakeline(Jackie)

Felipe and Jakeline(Jackie)

As is often the case, life follows its own purposes.
After Elvis’s death, I was determined not to get another dog until I could provide a safer home. Earlier this week, I came across a tiny, sick puppy abandoned in a garbage dump. It’s a common sight. Though I’m not proud of it, I’ve averted my eyes from hundreds of pathetic animals since moving here. But something about this puppy stopped me. She wriggled on her belly, blocking my passage, and I read in her eyes, You’re not really going to leave me here to die, are you? I picked her up, and was crawling with lice by the time we got home.
Felipe wasn’t thrilled to have another mouth to feed, and the rest of my animal companions looked at me disgustedly for days. I thought maybe I could entice my friend Larry to take her; he loves dogs and has a more generous heart than I can claim.
After a long struggle with cancer, Jake declined daily, requiring more and more care, causing deeper heartache. As I ministered to him, I applied treatments to the puppy for her parasites and a solid undercoat of scab. I resisted naming her.
We decided the day Jake could not rise to relieve himself would be the day he died. His distress grew with his immobility. Felipe had the horrible task of ending his suffering. There’s no scheduling a humane injection in our world. I’m immeasurably grateful to Felipe for his strength and courage. I doubt I’ll ever be so brave or unselfish.
He came home that night with a need to talk about the experience. I listened, overawed by his willingness to embrace life fully no matter the circumstance.
We finished our dinner, and the puppy scurried around the table, harassing Felipe’s cantankerous dog, Lilly. He laughed and said. “Why don’t we name her Jakeline.”

Goodbye, Jake, my miracle dog. Such a very, very good boy you are.

© 2013 Abby Smith, Writer


Some may read this post and think it is overwrought. But for those of you whose answer to getting through the hard times and honoring the good is, ‘Come on my dog, let’s go for a walk,” you will understand.

But for those of you who have lived with a creature whose every movement expressed life’s possibility and joy at the wonder of each moment, and it was that beings’ delight in existence that kept joy in the forefront of your life and the reality of the worlds’ sorrow as bay, you are the ones who will know.Elvis discovers water bubbles


Must I trade you for beauty?

Apparently, the rose was too perfect
It cried for blood, petty gods
And jealous
She doesn’t even carry her own
Scent, she’s raped
a peony

Who I am to complain
I who cherished you
a dog
when my own womb I
slashed and burned
for freedom

Can I not have all
The splendor, the love
I choose
Is this god making a believer
of me?

On Monday November 12th Elvis died in my arms of poisoning, it was most likely an intentional malicious act. It is a common practice here.

He was my joy. Felipe and I are heartbroken. Elvis’s mother Lilly was also poisoned, but made it through a horrible night, fighting off heart failure and brutal home remedies of salt douses to induced vomiting and doses of ground charcoal and oil, to cut the poison, they say. Frantically, we tried anything  we could, not knowing if we were helping or harming.

After we buried Elvis, Felipe and I kept vigil through the long night with Lilly, hoping our wakefulness would comfort her. As Felipe took his turn massaging her to ease the pain of the muscle spasms I did as I always do when grieving. I got out the largest novel I have on my shelf to bury myself in until I can rise from the ashes. It was Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts, a gift from my treasured friend Cat Stephens who always miraculously manages to come to my rescue in my bleakest hours.  This is the first paragraph.

It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant while I was chained to a wall being tortured. I realized, somehow, through that screaming in my mind, that even in that shackled, bloody helplessness, I was still free: free to hate the men that were torturing me, or forgive them. It doesn’t sound like much, I know. But in the flinch and bite of the chain, when it’s all you’ve got, that freedom is a universe of possibility. And the choice you make, between hating and forgiving, can become the story of your life.

The next day Felipe and I cared for Lilly and mourned together.  Through my fury and despair he reminded me that I believe in fate, that everything happens for a reason and I trust in the lessons of my life. To which I responded. “I could care less, I just want my #@$ dog back.”

But even in that state of crushing sorrow and rage it is difficult to deny the synchronicity of a random book, pulled from the shelf in a moment of anguish, and the voice of another soul who has traversed a more painful path than yours and emerged with a message of guidance and hope.

I realized several years ago that my love for Elvis was a dangerous thing, hazardously deep and important to me. I considered if I should continue to love him with abandon in light of how precarious is the life of a dog in La Tigra. On that day I made the choice to give him whole heart knowing the agony losing him would bring. I have no joy

Goodbye my dog, you are the best dog ever; I will love you, always.

Thank you to Cat, my personal bodhisattva; my partner in all things, Felipe, and Gerry David Roberts for helping me through this desolate part of my journey.

In closing, a benediction, the words of Mr. Roberts, which ease my soul, and are meant to be shared.

There is a truth that’s deeper than experience. It is beyond what we see or even what we feel. It’s an order of truth that separates the profound from the merely clever, and reality from the perception. We are helpless usually in the face of it; and the cost of knowing it like the cost of love, is sometimes greater than any heart would pay. It doesn’t always help us to love the world, but it does prevent us from hating the world. And the only way to know that truth is to share it, from heart to heart [ ] just as I am telling it to you now.

Lilly is improving, and will soon be attending her iguanas.

© 2013 Abby Smith, Writer

The Language of My Own Life

Wedding Work

On my finger is a ring
The ring finger of
my left hand
Under the ring
is a callous
made by wedding work
with a band

The work was the kind that
women do,
following dirt
into corners, pockets
Chasing the impossible

The work leaves my mind
like sheets on the line
The floors I’m afraid are
incorrigible. I play,
worry the callous made
by marrying work
and a ring

I think of the day
I slid through
that circle,
I consider the man
who gave me
the symbol

I question motives
because I am
modern, but
I listen
to him with
my hands

Man I say
You are honor-
able woman
you are wise
I turn my back
on the obvious

I speak the language
of my own life

Happy 9th anniversary my Love.

Indulge Me

My Dog Elvis is five years old today. It’s not easy to keep a dog alive in the rural Mexico for five years. To date, Elvis has been poisoned twice, he’s had wounds to the bone, had a virus that required a round of injections that would fell an elephant, and was implicated in the untimely death of a cow, which is a akin to a death sentence. Much of this mayhem occurred during the time he was uncut.  It took us a year and a half to find a vet that would castrate him. It simply is not done in our area, castrating a male, unless it’s a pig and that is only because you can’t eat the meat otherwise.

My love for Elvis is irrational, a divine passion. I’m just thankful that Felipe is crazy about him too, it offsets the jealousy. I don’t know what it is that inspires our devotion to dogs, perhaps it is our co-evolutionary path, or maybe it is simply their innate wonderfullness.

Happy birthday Boydog, be good, stay safe, I miss you already.

Why is this article related? Because I would not name my beloved after anyone less fabulous than Elvis Costello.