Poems of compassion dedicated to the non-human animals who share this planet with us and the people who fight for them.
Twelve hour friend
By Heidi Stephenson
I called you Pip, because you were so small, so perfect.
You had the tiniest hands I’d ever seen;
You picked up my offered nut-shavings so delicately.
Your ears were like the petals of a white pea flower,
Your eyes, bright, like blackcurrant berries or sloes.
You had a bow of whiskers, like a fairy’s cello.
I’d gone to get wood from the log-pile;
And found you instead – an injured wood mouse.
Nerve damage to your back legs, which you dragged behind you;
A trickle of blood from an invisible wound.
So I picked you up gently, in the palm of my hand.
Carried you upstairs, away from the cat,
I set you down on the softest pillow.
Went down to grate red peanuts, birdseed, bits of cheese,
To fill a bottle top with water, to mash strawberries.
You were hungry; you ate as if there was no tomorrow.
You were thirsty too, and you drank and drank;
Although you kept losing your balance.
I knew those legs meant trouble,
But somehow you managed to use them, to scratch your face;
To rid yourself of some irritating mite.
You looked me straight in the eye; shy, but grateful.
A gentle trembling, but you knew you’d landed safely.
I’d never felt so much love in one moment; you shone.
I rang the wildlife hospital near Salisbury.
The woman sighed when she heard the word “paralysis.”
Told me to find an old shoe box, an ice-cream carton,
To line it with finely shredded paper,
Something soft, and comfortable.
To make sure you had food and water, quiet.
She spoke about bananas and other fruit;
But my mind was drifting; she wouldn’t take you in.
I was to ring her in the morning,
If you made it through the night.
“I can’t do anymore than you’re doing,” she said.
“Spare her the journey.”
She knew, but I’d set my mind on hope;
I prayed that you would make it.
But by seven you’d collapsed,
Against the sliced grapes, in that carton.
I couldn’t leave you there, abandoned, alone.
I picked you up, set you down on the pillow beside me.
I gave you Reiki, into the early hours of the morning.
You drank it in, knowing I was making my best effort.
But your breathing became short and laboured, rasping.
You cried and whimpered with the pain; with the realization.
It broke my heart like nothing else, to see you suffer.
I prayed for them to take you now, to be merciful.
I thought about every mouse tortured to death by “crush” sadists;
About every mouse lying broken in a trap, in a laboratory cage.
I thought about “Mrs Tittlemouse;”
How Beatrix Potter had been an ardent anti-vivisectionist.
I thought about the idiocy of women screaming at such innocence.
About how the only real “pest” is the human being.
And I felt the tremendous privilege of being with you;
Such a rare honour, to bear witness to your passing.
When I woke in the morning, you were gone.
Your tiny body still warm, so very recent.
You’d struggled to get closer; died on the sheet beside me.
Your legs splayed out behind you - reaching out.
I buried you: digging the ground with a pudding spoon;
In the ivy-covered place, where I’d found you.
I thought about how much fuss we make of our own deaths;
Of how little consideration we give to the passing of animals:
To the lambs, chicks, calves and pigs; to the foxes hunted for “fun.”
I thought about what an injustice that was; what an arrogance.
I lay you down on a lining of dried bamboo leaves,
Covered you with beech, with broken flower heads, a feather.
I scooped the loam with my hands, filled in your fresh grave.
And I marked your place with a heart-shaped stone,
That I’d found in the forest that morning;
A special tribute to my twelve hour friend.
©Heidi Stephenson, June 1014