When I saw an elephant, a female named Zurapa
at the city zoo last summer, I was struck
by the pained look in her eyes. I thought
of Candy, my family’s French poodle
when I was a child, on the night before
my father took her to be euthanized
without telling me. Her limp,
which she always had, became worse
despite all of the medication she took,
and was never more difficult for my father to see
than when she coughed up blood
after she ate a scoop of Spumoni ice cream.
David Bowie sang Ashes to Ashes on MTV.
Candy snored on my bedroom floor.
I read myself to sleep. Visions of Spider-Man crawled
on the walls of Brooklyn walk-ups
in my head. The next morning was
a pile of Milk Bone crumbs
in the middle of my bed. I looked for Candy
and called her name. My mother heard
the worry in my voice.
She told me to sit at the kitchen table,
then explained what happened.
Seeing Candy hurting made my parents hurt;
by taking her somewhere that would end her suffering;
everyone else’s would go away sooner,
which benefited all who were concerned,
especially our furry queen, my mother said.
Then she held out her hand. That’s bullshit,
and you know it, I shouted.
I stomped into my room.
My pillows were punching bags.
The space beneath by bed was my bunker.
I stayed there and cried all day.
Looking back, as carried away as I was
by my sorrow and anger;
by imagining Candy trembling, wheezing
in a sterilized room, a needle in one of her legs;
the anguish my parents felt;
only now can I grasp the idea
that my mother’s pain was exacerbated
when I dismissed her kindness
and efforts to be gentle.
But isn’t that the nature of grieving?
No one goes about it the exact same way,
even if a heartache is shared,
and death is a kind of change;
people’s reactions to it are like fireworks,
ignite some, then watch the various colors
and patterns when they explode:
a sodium gold willow;
a barium green ring on a finger of sky,
smoldering into a faint trail of smoke;
the flashing of cameras
as Zurapa steps into her house
at the zoo, the July sun’s hands
on my slouched shoulders.
Joey Nicoletti is the author of three poetry collections, Thundersnow (Grandma Moses Press 2017), Reverse Graffiti (Bordighera Press 2015), and Cannoli Gangster (Turning Point 2012), as well as five chapbooks, including Capicola Slang, which is forthcoming from NightBallet Press in 2019. His Pushcart Prize-nominated poems, nonfiction essays, book reviews, and articles have appeared in The Rumpus, Drawn to Marvel: Poems from the Comic