Poetry Notes

I’ve been questioning my place in poetry. What is my voice? Why am I writing? What is my purpose? I want everything to mean everything. And some days, it does. On some days, the answers reveal themselves, probably because I’ve spend so much time questioning myself, there is little I can do to avoid the response.

Juan Carlos Galeano, a Colombian poet and professor at Florida State University, helped me answer some of these questions. Galeano visited Montana to show a recent film he produced on the Amazon River and to solidify and promote a program that will bring Montana State University Billings students to the Amazon to study in the coming year.

During a reading of his poetry, where he shared original poems in Spanish and translated versions were read aloud by Montana poets Tami Haaland and Bernie Quetchenbach, he described the process of writing poetry as psychoanalysis in reverse.

“As poets, we have spent so much time trying to become children again—to become like it is. Our bodies are part of the whole thing, the universe. It’s going back to that certainty.”

I am a poetry teacher working with elementary school students. I bring lessons to their classroom, yet the children are the ones who teach me the pure and direct nature of poetry. In one of my favorite lessons, we read Charles Simic’s “Stone.” The students then work with various stones and crystals I bring into the classroom and imagine the inner life of rocks.

…From the outside the stone is a riddle:
No one knows how to answer it.
Yet within, it must be cool and quiet
Even though a cow steps on it full weight,
Even though a child throws it in a river,
The stone sinks, slow, unperturbed
To the river bottom
Where the fishes come to knock on it
And listen…

Galeano has translated Simic’s work into Spanish. He is attracted to Simic for reasons I imagine I am: Simic eloquently contrasts our natural surroundings with our modernity. Galeano himself is an eco-poet, and his work too merges a modernist view of the world with a connection back to the environmental and the mythical.

“The study of nature and poetry are very related,” he said. “Poetry is a medium that allows us to feel the world with others and with our surroundings. We allow our mind to be inhabited and inhabit [these natural worlds]. There’s a reciprocity, an acknowledgement that we are part of the whole thing.”

In his work, Galeano gives the weather report, as told by the weather. I heard the winds of my childhood along that forgotten path that connects me to the places from where I came. I was reminded that I, as we all are, am a transformational being in a world of dualities.

The ideal world of a poet is making those many connections that are not possible in other narratives, creating those moments of awakening—a brief turn that poetry can take, suddenly revealing a commonality that changes everything, even just for a moment. Poets have a spiritual view of the world, Galeano describes, but it’s not directed by religious ideology. He speaks of an equality among species and a coexistence that requires the construction of a new set of ethics.

Of the Amazon, he said it’s like Billings, just “a different inflection of the earth.”

As Charles Simic titled one of his collections of poetry: Somewhere among us, a stone is taking notes.


A Reading of Her Own

An evening dedicated to Women’s Voices will take place Thursday, Oct. 19 at MoAV Coffee (2501 Montana Avenue), hosted by Billings Area Literary Arts (BALA) and presented in conjunction with the High Plains Bookfest, which kicks off in Billings on Thursday afternoon.

When BALA was formed, it was done so in the nature of inclusion to provide a platform for literary arts and for access to the growing variety of voices in our community.

We decided to begin hosting a reading event modeled after the work our sister organization (Helena Area Literary Arts) is doing in Helena dedicated to women because it is humbling, grounding, and unifying when women speak their truth in a shared environment.

Playing off of Virgina Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, A Reading of Her Own brings nonfiction stories from women writers and challenges the audience to connect to their experiences. These stories are often impassioned because they are so personal. Stories are not curated, but each woman who participates is given mentorship and community in which to create her work, if she needs.

I am proud of the work BALA is doing to create a space for female writers to express the things that they may not feel comfortable expressing in other settings. It is rare to attend a reading of only women writers, and that’s why we host these events.

This event is open to the public, and is pay what you will, with a suggested donation of $5 – $20 going to support Free Verse Writing Project, bringing creative writing to Montana’s Youth Detention Centers.

Get to know the women sharing their stories:

Laura Bailey is a storyteller with more than 18 years experience in journalism and freelance writing. She’s a regular contributor to numerous regional publications, and has helped dozens of entrepreneurs share their stories online. Laura’s curiosity and compassion fuels her writing process, and she’s known for her thoughtful, in-depth personal profiles. She lives in Red Lodge, where she shares her everyday adventures with her husband, three-year-old daughter, and two dogs.

Cara Chamberlain is the author of three books of poetry, Hidden Things, The Divine Botany, and Lament of the Antichrist in a Secular World and Other Poems. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Nimrod, Boston Review, Passages North, Crab Orchard Review, and The Southern Review. She has received four Pushcart Prize nominations and has been a finalist in the Ashland Poetry Press, Lo-Fi Novella and Blue Light Book Award contests. She lives in Billings, Montana, and works as a freelance copy editor.

Born and raised in Montana, Ellen Kuntz spent her formative years in Billings, MT. After being gifted a camera for her 17th Birthday, Ellen developed her style of vulnerable and melancholic self-portraits. Currently, Ellen uses many mediums to make art including video, textiles, and photography. Ellen resides in Billings, MT with her two Shih Tzus’ Birdie and Frankie.

Amelia Danielle Marquez has always been an advocate for the arts. She was born and raised in Billings, and throughout her youth, Amelia enjoyed assisting theatre classes and productions at Venture Theatre. After graduating from Montana State University Billings with a degree in Communication, Amelia has shifted her primary focus of her life to politics. She now sits as the Vice Chair of the Yellowstone County Democrats, a candidate for House District 52 in Billings, and plans to continue to dedicate her extra time to the arts. Finally, her overall mission is to give a voice to trans youth all over Montana.

Molly Ouellette is a senior at MSUB studying Elementary Education and Reading. She has participated in several poetry slams and took second place at the Grand Slam held in conjunction with the High Plains Book Fest last year. Some of her hobbies include writing and performing poetry, reading, identifying different kinds of birds with an app, taking Buzzfeed personality quizzes, and trying super hard to not to hook trees while fly fishing. She aspires to be a crusader for social justice and a beekeeper. One last thing: she is a Sagittarius with a Leo Moon and a Capricorn Ascendant.

Kate Restad is a freelance writer and graphic designer hailing from Billings, Montana. Her published works, which span the realms of poetry, journalism, and academia, have appeared in Noise & Color Magazine, the Billings Gazette, the Oval Literary Magazine, the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, and others. In her free time, Kate enjoys acting, and can be seen in the upcoming production of The Whale, produced by Sacrifice Cliff Theatre Company.

Penny Ronning’s commitment to the arts, social justice, and protecting wildlife habitat is reflected in her more than 30 years of professional and volunteer service. As a business owner in Livingston, MT, she successfully served as the president of the Livingston Downtown Association and has served on the Board of Advisors of the Missoula, MT based Vital Ground Foundation since 2005. Penny created and co-founded HATCH, a non-profit organization based in Bozeman, MT. She is a co-founder of the Yellowstone County Area Human Trafficking Task Force, serves as CASA, and in 2013, founded Operation: Billings Child. Penny is a filmmaker and nature photographer. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Film, a Master’s degree in Business Administration, and enjoyed law school.

Ashley K. Warren began her artistic career as a ballerina and musician. She attended Concordia College on a music scholarship but graduated with an English degree, and went on to receive her MFA in creative writing from University of Southern Maine. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Typehouse, The Examined Life, Easy Street, and in the anthology Poems Across the Big Sky II among other places. She teaches writing at Montana State University-Billings, the Big Sky Writing Workshops, in Billings public schools through the nonprofit organization Arts Without Boundaries, and in juvenile detention centers through the organization Free Verse. In 2016, she co-founded Billings Area Literary Arts out of desire to create more opportunities for writers in the community.

Ekphrasis: A Poetry & Collage Pop-up Show

Ekphrasis: orig. Greek: a vivid, often dramatic, verbal description of a visual work of art, either real or imagined.

Ekphrasis. In short, it’s art about art. It’s a beautiful word. It’s an awkward word. It’s hard to spell. It’s also hard to pronounce. I usually end up saying “eggsphrasis,” and then it becomes a brunch dish. But this word catalyzed a group of writers and artist together. Along with Michelle Dyk, Pete Tolton, Ashley Warren, Matt Taggart, Kelly Mullins, Meagan Lehr, I am pleased to announce Ekphrasis: A Poetry & Collage Pop-up Show, taking place at 6PM on Friday, September 15 at 2905.

For the past several months we’ve been prepping for Friday’s event. Now that it’s a week away, I’m feeling a bit crazy. Not only are we showing the work we’ve produced and reading the poems we’ve written (or….if you’re like me….still writing), we’re literally packing up our living rooms and reconfiguring them in the venue space, named for its address (2905 Montana Avenue). We’re calling this “sudden spaces,” a pop-up of a magnitude I feel a bit overwhelmed by (especially given the fact I just sold my home and packed up all my things, unpacked them…and am now repacking them to unpack…you get the idea).

Why? Why not, really. These little living areas transplanted from our homes will be arranged throughout the event space and serve multiple functions: exhibition galleries, performance halls for poetry readings, and art studios for expository creations. Just as we share our work, we wanted to share the spaces in which we live and work, a reflection of us as artists and writers.

Bringing all those spaces, art, and words together in one night is the culmination of our cooperative efforts, a diptych of visual media and written word. (Yeah, I didn’t know what that word meant either…but it’s art consisting of two hinged pieces).

Collage artist Matt Taggart says collage comes from the “detritus” of the world. (ANOTHER AWESOME WORD that I didn’t know before this project!)

“What drew me to collage was your tools are always right in front of you. It’s easier to visualize an outcome,” Taggart said. “With collage, your visual stimuli is already there. It’s breaking it down into a usable form. It’s already been built, but you get to restructure it.”

Writing poetry from another artist’s viewpoint isn’t without its challenges. But the artists have been very open to the poets interpretation of their work. “A picture inspires a thousand words,” said artist Michelle Dyk. “I wanted to see what poets’ words would do, even just ten words.” The results are diverse—impressionistic, playful, heartfelt, and most of all, inviting.

Join us on Friday, starting at 6PM for this one-of-a-kind-never-to-be-reproduced (mainly because I don’t ever want to move again) show. We’ll have beverages provided by Last Chance Cider Mill and Pub, though we do ask that you BYOB in the sprit of the living room. Visitors are invited to participate in producing their own small works of collage and poetry, so bring any bits of poetry or print media you may like to adapt into a new work of art. We’ll have supplies handy and a lot of good people to share their knowledge and enthusiasm for exploratory art forms.

See you there:

Ekphrasis: A Poetry & Collage Pop-up Show

2905 Montana Avenue


Accidental Gravity and Lament of the Antichrist in a Secular World

I recently had the good fortune to sit down with poets and dog lovers Bernie Quetchenbach and Cara Chamberlain for Yellowstone Public Radio. As a married couple, their literary lives intertwine in many ways and both released new books this spring.

“What we play is the music of circumstance, a ragged, delicate hymn, the soulsong of our shared and lonely lives,” writes Bernie in “Accidental Gravity,” a collection of essays that is part poetic, part introspective, but in fullness a most lovely almost lyrical composition.

I was particularly struck by the way Bernie sandwiches climate change with music of his youth. Here’s a passage from the chapter Summertime:

“Summertime. Long hot (but not so very hot) days by the lakeshore, the water not clean, but better than it was, sure, and always cool. Black terns skim the shore. Ospreys will return, with DDT banned. So much time. Out of school, lying back with the transition radio, BBF tossing out “Day Tripper” and “The Kids are Alright” along with harmless fluff like “Incense and Peppermints,” as lampreys sail in on the Saint Lawrence Seaway, waterfront houses pop up faster than cat tails along Long Pond, the war in Vietnam inches across the years toward my 18th birthday. But for now, Janis, the living is easy.”

Cara’s collection of poetry, titled “Lament of the Antichrist in a Secular World,” is wildly inventive with quite the cast of characters – therapists, virgins, prophets, apostles, kings, queens, maidens, feminine archetypes, Satan and the son of god – Adam and Eve, Delilah and Samson, Mary Magdalene, Ezekiel Among the Mall Walkers…to name a few.

As well, there’s such a strong sense of place, from the glaciered peaks to the grace of deer, the plowed fields and vanishing farms, subdivisions and retail stores.

In our interview on Yellowstone Public Radio, Cara and Bernie discuss their literary household (just like anyone else’s, with probably a few more words rolling about).

The Chinooks of Jussila YAM hosts storyteller, poet and artist Neil Jussila

Neil Jussila will tell you stories. An abstract painter, poet, Vietnam veteran, and the current artist in residence at the Yellowstone Art Museum, Jussila has a knack for painting pictures with words.

When Jussila was 16, at the urging of a family friend, he timidly took some of his art to the Montana Institute of Arts in Butte. This social organization took him in, and he began to hang with a crowd of painters. After their art sessions, they would gather at the Log Cabin Bar.

“I was intimidated. I was a real amateur,” Jussila said. “They accepted me as another adult, treated me to a beer. Real grown up stuff to a 16-year-old.”

As Jussila tells it, one night around the bar, Jackson Pollock is mentioned. The group asks, “Do you think that’s art?” Local artist Fred Mass, who had taken Jussila under his wing, lights a pipe. As a billowing cloud of smoke rolls from him, he begins to describe the arctic front that Butte was in the grips of. “It’s going to come to an end. When it comes to an end, you’ll know right away. The skies will be leaden and you’ll feel a warm wind coming in—that’s the Chinook. By the end of the day, you’ll see streams coming down the streets of Butte, people waking in the slush, and it will just feel good.”

Jussila continues to narrate the story. “Fred said, ‘I don’t think that you could depict the sensation of a Chinook any other way than through abstract painting and expressionism.’ I was young at the time when I came across that information. It stuck, and it has been one of the guiding principles in my life of art.”

Jussila, whose work is dashed with abstraction, thick brush strokes and primary colors, is working on a new series of scroll paintings. His residence at the YAM has allowed him the freedom to work with these large-scale prints, crafted from his original abstract paintings, featuring his poetry handwritten in Jussila’s characteristic script.

“It was a lot better than having ‘#48, Red Sun at Dawn,’ on there, which people cannot connect with,” he said.

Jussila, “halfway through 73,” is living a contemplative life. His paintings are about being fully in the moment, the celebration of spirit, freedom and energy, life and mind, and love.

Being the YAM’s artist in residence has been prolific for Jussila. He launched a series of miniature watercolor paintings, which he placed for sale for $55 at the front desk of the YAM. “Some days, I would make about 30 watercolors, fast and one after another, and then I did so many of them I got tired of them. I just ran out of steam.”

Jussila decided if he were to stay a full year as the resident, he “better get busy and start doing something that I’ve always been interested in doing.”

“I have to really concentrate on creative work, so I have to get cracking and doing things that I think are important.”

While in Japan during the Vietnam War, Jussila was first introduced to scroll paintings and purchased one from a pawnshop in Tokyo.

“It is my most prize possession,” he describes. “I have looked at that and looked at that over the years, and I have experimented with the idea of scroll paintings for many years.”

Many false starts and failures later, he started playing around with digital printing, which allows the paintings to be enlarged and that print hung in an affordable, elegant way.

Jussila will be in residence through October 2, 2016. His studio hours at the Gary and Melissa Oakland Artist-in-Residence Studio at the Visible Vault are Tuesday through Friday 10:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m and 1:30 p.m. – 4:15 p.m.

Brain training: Stepping off the treadmill Reset by depriving your senses

I’m not a runner. I view people who run as a bit mad. I can’t imagine being driven to run from one place to another, pounding pavement as your ankles crack and your knees creak, all while pitting out expensive, specially designed clothing. It’s just not for me. But there is an organ in my body that is always on the treadmill. My brain is constantly running. It’s not even training for a marathon, and it’s on the go all the time. I wake up and I’m instantly flush with thoughts: Did (insert name of latest crush) text me? What is on my calendar today? Ooooohhh, Facebook. I wonder how many “likes” I have on my last post. I should change my profile photo. Email. Oh man, I have soooo many unread emails. Argh. I forgot to reply to that Doodle pole. I wonder how I can get out of this meeting.

I am NOT EVEN OUT OF BED YET and my brain is sweating.

I picture this poor organ wrapped in sweatbands, lacing tiny running shoes before it’s even fully conscious. By the time I open my eyes, this athlete is ready to go. It jumps on the treadmill and doesn’t stop until it collapses at the end the day in exhausted, overwhelming defeat.

To help this little athlete slow down, I decide to teach it how to meditate. My brain isn’t as enthusiastic as I hoped it would be about the idea.

“Meditation?!” I don’t have time for that.” Still, I commit to sitting on my carpet, legs crossed, eyes closed, while a YouTube video for meditation runs on my laptop. Every time my brain jumps on that treadmill, I scold it. “Hey. Stop that. You’re supposed to be resting.” Brains really love to run.

I figure I need to step up my game, so I try a subscription to “Headspace,” a meditation app. Pleasant cartoon illustrations speaking in British accents lead me into a meditative state, and honestly, it begins to work. The sessions start out slowly—five minutes, then 10, building to 20-minute guided meditations.

This thought is ever-present, though, that I am wasting precious time. All those to-do lists, those people waiting for my reply, those notifications pinging in the background keep my brain on the move. Soon, my app subscription expires, and I’ve only unlocked level two of meditation mastery.

I need something extreme to put this athlete on the bench. If I can’t shut out all the distractions, maybe someone else can. I seek out Kristin Gardner, who recently installed Billings first sensory deprivation tank at her business, Affinity for Healing, located at 3429 Central Avenue. Gardner promotes a “deep sense of relaxation” that can be obtained through depriving the brain of exterior stimulation.

Gardner books me for a “float” in her i-sopod Float Tank, an egg-shaped device filled with water that looks like a private vessel the cast of Cocoon might hibernate in during their journey to the planet Antarea. The tank’s water contains 286 pounds of Epson salt, kept at body temperature. The salt keeps you naturally afloat, removing any struggle you may have had in the past floating around, for instance in the bathtub or the ocean. Seriously, it’s a lot of salt.

Gardner asks me to take a quick shower to remove any body products, then walks me through the routine. Eye drops if I need them (getting this salty water in your eyes is not recommended, but if it happens, you’ll want eye drops handy), earplugs (highly recommended, as the experience is not as pleasant as it can be with water sloshing around your inner lobes), and petroleum jelly, which can be put on any scratches or cuts (yep, this much salt water can really sting on open wounds).

I begin to feel stress. I’m going to be in an enclosed pod of pitch-blackness, floating in salty water for an hour with my brain. “Don’t worry, there’s a light button and a panic button,” Gardner tells me. “You can get out at any time.” Gardner takes two fingers to show me how easy it is to lift the lid if necessary.

The first 10 minutes in the pod include music and lights reflecting through the water. After 10 minutes, the pod goes dark, beginning the sensory deprivation.

“For the most part, you want to really let your mind shut down from all the to-do lists in your head or all the errands you have to run,” Gardner says. “You want to have a deep sense of relaxation.”

Gardner exits the room, and I step into the pod, pulling the lid down. Docile music is piped into the pod, and the lights subtly change colors, creating lucidity to the space. It’s enjoyable. I feel free, gently fluttering my arms and bumping against the sides of the tank like a docked boat with its tethers too loose.

I begin to wonder how the hell I’m going to do this for an hour. The lights click off at 10 minutes, and the music fades away. I can hear my heart beat. I keep my eyes closed, hovering in the darkness. Each time my brain steps off the treadmill, I applaud it, which frustratingly only makes it hop back up and get back on.

I feel like Homer Simpson in the episode of The Simpson’s where he and his daughter Lisa try a flotation tank. While Lisa takes a journey of the mind, realizing some valuable things about herself, Homer’s in the tank next to her singing, “I saw the witch doctor, he told me what to do…He said that ….Ooo eee, ooo ah ah ting tang. Walla walla, bing bang.”

My brain won’t stop. I think, “Is this what it takes? A pod of darkness?! A complete deprivation of the outside world? And you STILL WON’T SHUT UP?”

Frustrated, I turn into my other senses. I listen to my heartbeat, flushing blood in and out of its ventricles. My eardrums pulse with this same beat. My breath lifts my chest high, drifts it down low, then back again in rhythm with the movement of my lungs. I watch the inside of my eyelids, thinking of them as empty movie screens. I’m not sure at what point the brain steps down, removes its sweatbands, and takes a break, but it happens. Its awareness of time, of pressure, of duty, seems to diminish and drop to a sub-level of consciousness.

The lights in the pod come back up at one hour. The music begins again, and I open my eyes. Coming back into the room, I feel nearly exhausted. It’s a rewarding tired, however, a feeling that the workout was hard-fought.

On my way home, I catch myself reaching for my phone to check the notifications at a stoplight. The light changes, and I push the gas pedal a bit more than I should. My athlete responds kindly. “Hey, it’s okay. It’s habit. Let’s try it a different way.” I tuck my phone in my purse, back off the gas, and turn my attention to the intention of getting off that treadmill.

To try out a float, contact Affinity For Healing at 969-2558 or online at affinityforhealing.com. Story originally published in Yellowstone Valley Magazine.

Rimrock Hot Club Billings musicians debut Gypsy Jazz group

Music and arts culture in Billings continues to thrive, and Arthouse Cinema and Pub has created another space for live music. The independent theater in downtown has opened its doors to a variety of community events on Mondays and Tuesdays (days when movies are not showing).

Rimrock Hot Club, in an intimate seating of 100 or so patrons, sold out two shows back-to-back featuring this fast-swinging, otherworldly style of music. The newly formed ensemble drew from the great tradition of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli as well as modern influences.

Tippet Rise Performing Arts Center takes shape near Fishtail

Montana’s majesty is a moving experience. The vastness of this state captivates audiences with prairie vistas and grand mountains upheaved from the earth. Nature’s organic brushstroke has created scenes of vastness and unconquerable beauty, earning the state its title of “Last Best Place.”

The mountains of south central Montana and their immense presence struck philanthropists and artists, Cathy and Peter Halstead. In this majestic surrounding, Cathy (an artist), and Peter (a photographer, pianist, and poet), found a home for their vision: a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing music, sculpture, and nature together.

“There is nothing like this confluence of art, architecture, music and landscape. It’s unprecedented,” said Christopher O’Riley, musical director of Tippet Rise. “There is nothing like it.”

Tippet Rise came from the Halsteads desire to combine their love of landscape with their extensive philanthropic work in the arts. Located one mile west of Fishtail on a working ranch, this arts center honors the landscape of Montana while enhancing these vistas to create something otherworldly. Across the 11,500 acre working ranch—where one will find sheep and cattle grazing the land—sculptures and performance venues dot the landscape.

Monuments to the untamed mountains, these creations by internationally known artists and architects link nature with architecture, art, and music. Abstract expressionist sculptor Mark di Suvero’s “Beethoven’s Quartet” sits tall on a vista. One of two di Suveros on the property, the suspended, melodic sculpture (rubber mallets are provided so visitors and chime the structure) is almost as surreal as the panoramic views of the Beartooths and the Crazies. In homage to the mountains, Spain’s Ensamble Studio erected two sculptures (“Beartooth Portal” and “Inverted”) that feel unearthed from the seafloor: huge concrete structures teetering on the rolling plains. Appearing monolithic and unearthed in nature, these monuments to the untamed space of country span time. Tucked in the lowlands of the property, nomadic-looking architectural structures by NYC artist Stephen Talasnik frame the landscape. Down in the river valley of the property, twisting willow branches harvested from the area overtake dreamscape artist Patrick Dougherty’s replica frontier-period schoolhouse, aptly named “Daydreams.”

Three performance spaces also occupy the land. Domo, reaching nearly 100 feet long and 16 feet high, is a monolithic feat of concrete and engineering. Designed to appear as though it is hovering on the land, this structure is acoustically matched to the outdoor space and will be host to many of the organization’s live concerts. Created especially for Tippet Rise, Domo is one of three structures co-created by Antón García-Abril and Débora Mesa, principals of Ensamble Studio. The music of García-Abril’s father, a well-known musical composer, will be performed this summer at Domo, bringing together the father and son’s work in a serendipitous way.

Tiara Acoustic Shell, designed for up to 100 audience members, acts like a band shell without walls. This wooden, moveable structure reflects sound from the corners, swirling it above the listener’s head.

The Olivier Barn, a third and main performance space, has been named one of the eight structures in the world to look out for in 2016 by architectural critic Jonathan Glancey for the BBC. Unassuming, the structure appears from the exterior to be a simple barn, organically nestled in the property’s valley. Alongside it runs a small stream lined with aspens, cottonwoods, and waving grasses.

More in June’s Yellowstone Valley Magazine >>>

Seven Months

Excel The Greyt was diagnosed with bone cancer on July 31, 2015. His prognosis: three months.

At the time, I didn’t believe he had three weeks. The cancer moved so fast. It seemed to consume him. But I also didn’t believe the only thing I could do was wait for him to die.

I wanted him to reach his 9th birthday, on Sept. 1.

So I fought furiously. I battled cancer with food. I responded to death with love. I surrounded us with the very best adventure of life: friendship and true love.

We took to the mountains and laid in the creek. We played in the park and slept in the grass. We gardened. We held babies. We held hands. We had parties, backyard barbecues and around the block adventures. We slept in, and we snuggled.

Excel responded miraculously to the love and food he received, and I in turn grew braver because of our time. I learned how to feed with love, how to live presently in a very momentary life, and how to more fully trust myself.

Yet, I didn’t believe I’d know when our time was up. I worried that he would be in pain and I would not know, or that when it came time to say goodbye, I wouldn’t be sure. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be strong enough to take him to the end.

The evening of Saturday, March 12, the cancer overtook his lungs. All the comfort I gave Excel was gone, and he asked me to help him. My room reverberated in his pain. I felt his anguish as if it were my own. With the clarity that intense love brings, I knew I would not keep him here to suffer. It was time to release him from all the pain of his body.

That Sunday, March 13, we said goodbye. I surrounded myself with the biggest love I knew, the love of strong women and best friends. They held me, and they comforted him. Then they left us alone. I placed him in my bed, his favorite spot to be. His breath was gaspingly shallow. He would stop breathing for moments, as if he were trying out the other side. A trusted friend and vet came to my home and took him to the end. I held his head, placed my forehead to his and sent him into death with the reassurance that he was the strongest, kindest, most admirable soul I’d ever met.

I felt him leave his body. I heard him leave the room. The world shook on his exit. Of all the souls in all the world, to have known this one is staggering. To have found him across so many lives and to be able to take him to the very end was a most honorable act.

There’s vastness left in me, an expanse that is not empty but rather wide open to all the beauty and pain that death to life brings.

Time, with a soul this big, doesn’t exist. Love is the only way I know to measure of such a life’s span.

Excel The Greyt’s Adventures
July 31, 2015 – March 13, 2016